Storefront Safety: Is It On Your Radar?
Last month I was working with a client in Southern California. We broke for lunch and I drove a couple of miles to a bakery/cafe restaurant that is a frequent spot for me when I’m on the road to eat and catch up on some e-mail. Just a few days later, I was surprised to see as I read the news that a jewelry store right across the street had been crashed into by a vehicle. And it wasn’t just a couple of feet into the storefront – the driver ended up some 50 feet into the store. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but it would be very easy to have the same crash with multiple serious injuries (or worse) if it had happened at a different time or into a different store.
Vehicle-into-building crashes have occurred ever since cars came into wide use a century ago. The Texas A&M University Transportation Institute did some research on the phenomenon several months ago and collected a variety of interesting data.
Before I share a few of their findings with you, I’d like you to take a brief survey to gauge perceptions of this issue. It’s just six questions and will only take a minute.
Click on this link to take the survey: Storefront Crashes Survey
Thanks for taking the survey. The issue of storefront crashes may have escaped wide attention in much of the safety and risk control field, but there is reason to look further. Some data, analysis, and consensus standards activity on the topic will provide a good starting point.
A Significant Issue
There are regularly news reports of vehicle-into-building crashes, including retail stores, strip-mall locations, gas stations, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, health clubs, – all sorts of businesses. Some with disastrous consequences. And note that all the examples listed in this paragraph are from just the last three months. Unfortunately, these examples abound.
Experts at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and say preliminary research into vehicle-to-building crashes indicates that 70 percent of such collisions involve crashing into a convenience store, restaurant or other business (such as car washes, gas stations, gyms, and grocery stores).
The data also showed that 41 percent of collisions resulted from pedal error (either the driver’s foot slipping from one pedal to the other or mistakenly pressing the gas instead of the brake).
Hard to pinpoint the numbers
The number of vehicle-into-building crashes, and service industry storefront crashes in particular, is significant but difficult to pinpoint because of the gap in NHTSA data related to such crashes that occur off public roadways. Some individual companies and insurance carriers have data, but not much of it is widely shared.
Urban and retail center design conventions often include parking spaces in close proximity to storefronts, positioned perpendicular or at an angle to the storefront. This presents a potentially increased hazard level for storefront crashes, depending on the details of the configuration. Control measures are available, but it is important to understand that traditional wheel stops are not an effective control (and also present potential trip hazards). Wheel stops and curbs can keep a car being parked from pulling too far into a parking space, but will not stop a vehicle traveling at higher speeds.
Building placement, parking space design, bollards, structural rails, and crash-worthy architectural features are all potential avenues of control for storefront crash prevention. Crash-worthy structural design continues to be researched, beyond the traditional realms of roadway barriers and high-security installations.
Convenience stores and restaurants are two segments that are poised to make significant progress by addressing this issue. Some of the upcoming work for those in the safety and risk control fields who are concerned with this issue needs to center on standardizing and communicating risk factor identification and analysis, and control measures.
Progress through collaboration
The problem of vehicle-into-building crashes has led to the creation of a group called the Storefront Safety Council. Co-founders Mark Wright and Rob Reiter have not yet formally organized the Council, but they invite anyone interested in the topic to join their growing online community via the Storefront Safety Council LinkedIn group.