NHTSA Extending Air Bag Deactivation Rule

The problem the agency set out to address in 1997, children killed when air bags deployed, has disappeared -– no child deaths related to air bags have been confirmed in model year 2004 or later vehicles.

A safety problem that made headlines during the 1990s has vanished, according to a June 8 NPRM published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The problem was children being killed in low-speed crashes when air bags deployed, and NHTSA addressed it in November 1997 with a final rule allowing dealers and repair shops to install on/off switches for frontal air bags when the vehicle owner had received NHTSA’s permission for the installation.

NHTSA published a rule requiring advanced frontal air bags in 2000, and in it allowed on/off switches to continue to be installed in vehicles manufactured through Aug. 31, 2012. The NPRM says the agency believes there may still be a need for deactivation of air bags beyond that date "for at-risk individuals who cannot be accommodated through the advanced air bag technology." So it is proposing three more years –- applying the exemption to motor vehicles manufactured before Sept. 1, 2015.

The NPRM also says child deaths from air bags have stopped: There have been no confirmed air bag-related child deaths in model year 2004 or later vehicles, and there have been only two confirmed adult deaths related to air bags in 2004 or later vehicles, it says.

NHTSA is accepting comments for 30 days on the extended exemption allowing on/off switches to be installed. In general, dealers and repair shops are prohibited from rendering inoperative any device or design covered by a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (such as FMVSS 208, which requires seat belts and frontal air bags).

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