The issue of vehicle-into-building crashes, also known as storefront crashes, is gaining attention as an emerging concern. Some good work has been done in the last several years to better collect and interpret data from these crashes, and also to outline some technical aspects of prevention and protection. Still, more work has been done in relation to protection from the deliberate crashing/ramming of vehicles into structures than for such crashes from accidents.
One point of note is that this issue may often involve storefronts, but all types of occupied buildings have a least some level of risk in this area. Also noteworthy is the fact that this isn’t just about passenger automobiles crashing into buildings due to pedal error – there are plenty of examples of other vehicle types involved, such as trucks, buses, powered industrial trucks (forklifts) and even construction equipment crashing into buildings.
A framework for risk assessment of the accidental versions of these crashes necessarily includes several aspects of examination to identify, analyze and control hazards. The following factors represent some broad areas to consider when doing preliminary categorization of vehicle into building crash risks:
The Five P’s of Vehicle-Into-Building Crash Risk Assessment
How close a structure is to vehicular traffic, including roadways of varying types, parking areas, alleys, access ways, and loading docks.
The placement of the structure on the site. This involves the orientation of the structure, setback from edges of the site, and use of grade features that change the amount of exposure to errant vehicles.
The presence, arrangement, and approach to parking spaces is an important consideration. This is not confined to the presence of spaces directly pointed at buildings, but also includes orientation and lanes leading to other parking spaces. Speeds and speed control measures in the parking area are also part of this factor.
Paths of travel for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles are another area of consideration. There are at least two elements to this area of consideration, including both the line-of-fire concerns with potentially errant vehicles, and the issues related to reactions and avoidance of unexpected or difficult to perceive impediments to traffic flow. An example of this is when a pedestrian walkway crosses a drive-thru lane at a quick service (“fast food”) restaurant and there are blind spots increasing the potential for a vehicle to be steered erratically in an attempt to avoid previously unseen pedestrians.
Protection refers to means of stopping (or diverting, or slowing) errant vehicles from crashing into structures or areas where people are present, or limiting potential penetration of errant vehicles into these areas. There are several categories and types of protection, including natural features, integrated building features, and protective fixtures/equipment. Bollards are one of the most recognizable and widely applied examples of protection features.
It’s also worth noting briefly here that two features often identified as protective elements have very significant limitations. Both curbs and wheel stops (also known as tire stops) are only effective at stopping most cars at very low speeds, and can serve to launch vehicles up and into storefronts and buildings at higher speeds.
This is a brief overview of some selected elements of vehicle-into-building crash risk assessement. Elements of these assessments may require specialized expertise, engineering, and analysis. Though at present there has only been limited application of regulations, codes, and standards to this issue, it makes sense for developers, facility managers, operations leaders, and risk managers to consider how this risk can be better understood, identified, evaluated, and controlled.