Mail boxes have been a link to the outside world for rural Americans since Rural Free Delivery began in 1896. For a hundred years, people have decorated their front yards and expressed their individuality with their mailbox. Mailboxes have become a nostalgic subject for magazine articles and books, as well as a place to showcase one's lifestyle or advertise a business interest. The creativity and uniqueness shown in these mail box designs can, however, hide unrecognized safety risks for motorists.
According to "A Guide for Erecting Mailboxes on Highways" published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), there are aspects of individual and group mailboxes that can "turn a single mailbox installation into a lethal roadside obstacle", obstacles that have "impaled or decapitated motorists". "Possibly 70 to 100 people die annually in the United States in vehicles striking mailboxes where the design of the mailbox, and especially its support, can be shown to have contributed to the severity of the accident," says AASHTO.
Consider the location of the box itself. If the mailbox is too close to the normal lane of traffic it could clip someone's sideview mirror and cause a mailbox to become a projectile. If the box is heavier than the standard sheet metal or plastic box approved by the Postmaster, it may continue on through the windshield after an auto has clipped its post. Similarly, a group mailbox installation on the typical horizontal plank or timber at windshield height may sail through the passenger compartment during a collision.
Motorists die or are more severely injured when the energy of a collision is absorbed all at once in a collision with a heavy, well-anchored object rather than something more forgiving. A collision with mailbox mountings constructed to withstand vandalism, road maintainers, snow plows, and wide machinery could leave the mailbox in better condition than a motor vehicle and its passengers.
Tips for Rural Mailbox Installations:
- Locate the mailbox far enough off the side of the road so that the mail delivery vehicle can stop completely out of the flow of traffic and the mailbox is not susceptible to being hit by a snowplow.
- Use only Postmaster-approved mailboxes made of light sheet metal or plastic.
- Use a support only strong enough to hold the mailbox.
- Mailbox-to-post attachments should prevent the box from coming loose from the post if struck by a motor vehicle or when hit by snow and slush from plowing operations.
- Multiple mailbox mountings should use individual mounting posts rather than a heavy, horizontal support member.
- Contact the Sheffield or Ashley Falls Postmaster for specific installation details.