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Illustration by Security Management; iStock

Crash Ratings 101: The Cornerstone of Effective High Security Vehicle Barrier Systems

Vehicle barrier systems are quickly rising to the top of the list of new physical security imperatives given the growing frequency and severity of vehicle ramming incidents. With the heightened concern for vehicle-born terrorist attacks and crash and grab crime, the urgency to deploy vehicle barrier solutions is paramount. But in a world where security demands precision and reliability, it’s important to note that not all vehicle barrier systems are created equally.

The Importance of Crash Ratings

There are many products, such as pharmaceuticals, child car seats, and aircraft components, that are typically not used by the public unless they first undergo rigorous testing. Such testing ensures the effectiveness of a product and instills customer confidence in its reliability. The same principle applies to vehicle barrier systems, leading to the establishment of crash ratings.

Crash ratings serve as a standardized measure to assess and communicate the efficacy of various vehicle barrier products. The U.S. implementation of crash ratings dates back to 1985 when the Department of Defense developed K-ratings based on how far a 15,000-pound vehicle travels past a barrier at a given speed. Tested products only earned certification if the vehicle traveled 50 feet or less beyond the barrier. Today, these ratings have been replaced by M-ratings to meet the broader needs of multiple organizations responsible for the protection of assets domestically and abroad. To address this need, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed the F2656 Standard Test Method for Crash Testing of Vehicle Security Barriers.

This meticulous evaluation not only informs consumers and security professionals about a barrier's performance in real-world conditions, but it also sets a benchmark for barrier effectiveness. The bottom line is that barriers without an ASTM crash rating cannot be relied upon to provide adequate protection against a vehicle ramming incident. Non-rated barriers, like steel pipes filled with concrete or large concrete planters, provide a false sense of protection, leading customers, employees, visitors, and the general public to believe they are safe from such incidents when, in reality, they remain at risk.

Anatomy of a Crash Rating

ASTM F2656 crash ratings are determined by three key factors: vehicle weight, vehicle speed, and vehicle penetration distance, or how far the vehicle travels beyond barrier impact. These factors are then reflected in the vehicle’s rating with the first letter indicating the vehicle’s type/weight, the subsequent number reflecting the vehicle’s speed, and finally the penetration rating.

The ASTM has developed crash ratings for six different classes of vehicles, including:

  • SC=Small Car (up to 2,430lbs)
  • FS=Full Size Sedan (up to 4,630lbs)
  • PU=Pickup Truck (up to 5,070lbs)
  • M=Medium Duty Truck (up to 15,000lbs)
  • C=Class 7 Cabover (up to 15,783lbs)
  • H=Heavy Goods Vehicle (up to 65,000lbs)

The lighter three vehicles (SC, FS, and PU) are tested at 30, 40, 50, and 60mph while the larger three classifications (M, C, and H) are tested at 30, 40, and 50mph.  In addition, ASTM F3016 crash ratings define S ratings for passenger vehicles weighing up to 5,000lbs traveling at 10, 20, and 30mph, typically for barriers deployed in front of retail storefronts.

ASTM F2656 further uses penetration, or P-ratings, to define the distance that the vehicle penetrated the reference point on the barrier. A measured dynamic penetration of 3.3 ft (1m) or less would result in a P1 rating, a measured dynamic penetration greater than 3.3 ft up to 23 ft (1m to 7m) would result in a P2 rating, and a measured dynamic penetration greater than 23 ft (7m) up to 98.4 ft (30m) would result in a P3 rating. Any measured dynamic penetration beyond 98.4 ft (30m) by the test vehicle reference point would result in a failure of the test.

Crash Ratings Applied

Crash ratings matter when determining the best vehicle solution for the application at hand. Vehicle barriers carrying a crash rating of M50/P1, for example, would be ideal for infrastructure and military sites that require the highest level of protection, as this rating carries a minimal penetration rating combined with being tested at a high rate of speed. Barrier systems carrying this rating can range widely to include tracked gates, vehicle wedge barriers, gate arms (or beams), and various high-security bollards.   

F3016 crash rated safety bollards are best suited for storefronts as they provide protection from low-speed impacts while still allowing for easy pedestrian access. Retail owners should seek out bollards with at least a rating of S10/P1 to protect against storefront crashes committed at low speeds. However, since storefronts are generally subject to both high-speed smash and grab incidents or traffic accident impacts as well as low-speed pedal errors, owners will also need to consider the level of risk they are willing to accept. For those wanting more protection, S30/P1 or M50/P1 bollards are available, providing greater protection against higher speed vehicle impacts.

Municipalities particularly can benefit from the deployment of mobile or retractable crash rated barriers. For example, quick connect cable barriers afford municipalities the stopping power to immobilize a vehicle traveling 30 mph while only allowing for up to 23ft of maximum penetration. This cable barrier can be quickly deployed in minutes. The mechanical components are housed in cabinets on both sides of the secured roadway and are available in multiple finishes to blend into the surroundings.

Retractable bollards are also available in higher crash ratings and are designed to be raised and lowered when needed, such as during temporary events or emergency access. Perfect for public spaces that often experience road closures for parades and street festivals, and various other public events, these types of crash rated solutions are simple to operate while still offering demonstrated protection.

Proven, Preventative Security

In today’s world, it is not uncommon to see business owners and general contractors deploy steel pipes filled with concrete as an affordable alternative to crash rated bollards. The same can be said for vehicle access gates labeled as “high security” gates, concrete wheel stops, and other crude methods of anti-ram vehicle barriers.  But do not be fooled by marketing buzzwords or low-cost DIY solutions. If a vehicle were to run into these types of non-crash rated barriers at a high rate of speed, the risks to the business, driver, and nearby individuals could very well be the same as if the solutions were never installed at all.

Crash rated vehicle barrier systems are a proven method to prevent the risks associated with vehicle ramming incidents, providing the brute force protection public and private entities can rely on.


Mark Borto is currently the chief executive officer at BARRIER1 SYSTEMS, LLC, bringing more than two decades of executive leadership experience from previous VP, president, and CEO roles at dormakaba Americas, Boon Edam USA, and Royal Boon Edam International B.V. Borto earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, industrial distribution, and marketing at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1985. With a robust skill set that includes manufacturing, product development, contract negotiation, field operations management, new business development, sales management, and more, Borto contributes valuable insights to the industry.