Air Bag Update
Auto dealers and repair shops began installing air bag cutoff switches
in vehicles on January 19, 1998 for owners completing a four-step
application process through the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA reports that as of October 30, 1999
(latest report at close of publishing) 57,183 authorizations for
on-off switches have been processed for 70,275 switches (driver
side and/or passenger side). Of these authorizations, 3,226 were
in Ohio (1,613 driver side only, 783 passenger side only, 830 driver
and passenger side air bags). Actual installations reported in Ohio
through October 30, 1999 equalled 60 per million registered vehicles.
There are 45 Ohio auto dealerships and repair shops listed on NHTSA’s
Web site as facilities that install air bag on-off switches.
Actions leading to the cutoff switch ruling
NHTSA began issuing warnings in 1991 regarding the potential risk
of air bag injuries, especially to young children. In 1993 information
was required on car visors and in owners manuals warning drivers
to put rear-facing infant seats in the back seats of vehicles equipped
with passenger-side air bags. This information was also required
on child safety seats.
NHTSA issued final rules on new warning labels in the fall of 1996.
The new rules called for highly visible warning labels in all new
cars and light trucks by early 1997. The labels contained a clear
message stating that an air bag can injure or kill children age
12 and under, that children should always ride in the back seat,
and to never put an infant in a rear-facing child safety seat in
front of an air bag. These labels are affixed to sun visors. In
addition, new vehicles are required to have a warning label affixed
to the center of the dashboard at the time of delivery, which may
be removed only by the vehicle owner. Similar warning labels also
appear on child safety seats.
Federal air bag requirements were phased in over several years.
90% of 1997 model year cars were required to be equipped with air
bags, with full compliance beginning with the 1998 model year. Air
bags were required in all 1999 model light trucks and vans.
Cutoff switch requirements
The overwhelming majority of American car owners are not candidates
for the installation of on-off air bag switches. Most injuries are
preventable if drivers and passengers buckle up, with drivers keeping
at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel and front seat passengers
pushing their seat back as far as possible.
NHTSA approves air bag on-off switches on a case-by-case basis.
For additional information on air bag cutoff switches, go to www.nhtsa.gov/airbags/.
According to NHTSA, all vehicle manufacturers who produce on-off
switches agreed to indemnify their dealers for all causes of action
other than negligence. Manufacturers can provide the specifics of
indemnification. In any case, the switch installer may require a
vehicle owner to sign a waiver that releases the business from liability
if a switch is installed. In addition not all installers work on
all makes and models. For example, a Ford dealership may limit on-off
switch installation to Ford vehicles only.
Occupant protection standards
NHTSA passed regulations upgrading occupant protection standards.
These standards also require more comprehensive crash test procedures.
The rule follows a Congressional mandate to improve protection offered
by air bags while minimizing the potential to cause harm upon deployment.
The strength of the new standards is that they require minimum
levels of protection for unbelted and belted occupants in high-speed
crashes while reducing the risk of air bag-induced injury and injury
to out-of-position occupants (predominantly unbelted).
NHTSA also has undertaken an aggressive research program to improve
air bag technology. Advanced air bag technology includes concepts
such as recessed mounting, lighter air bag covers, lighter weight
fabrics, and sensors to detect the weight of an occupant.
On May 12, 2000, NHTSA published a final rule that amended Standard
No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, to require that future air bags
be designed to create less risk of serious air bag-induced injuries
than current air bags and to provide improved frontal crash protection
for all occupants through advanced air bag technology.
During the first stage phase-in (September 1, 2003–August
31, 2006), increasing percentages of motor vehicles will be required
to meet requirements for minimizing air bag risks. This will be
met primarily by either a sensor that automatically turns off an
air bag in the presence of a young child or deploying it in a manner
much less likely to cause serious or fatal injury to an out-of-position
During the second stage (September 1, 2007–August 31, 2010)
higher speed crash tests that employ the use of varied-sized dummies
will be phased-in, simulating higher speed crashes in order to develop
safer, more effective air bags. Starting in 2007, an increasing
percentage of all new vehicles will be required to pass the rigid
barrier crash test with belted male dummies at 35 mph instead of
30 mph. This part of the standard will be fully implemented by 2010.
Additional information on the new standard is available on NHTSA’s
Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) or from IIHS’ June 17, 2000 “Status
Report,” available online at www.highwaysafety.org.
Air bag effectiveness
The fact remains that air bags save lives. The chart
the latest statistics at close of publishing. Most air bag-related
fatalities are due to driver or passenger error,
meaning that the occupant was not buckled or improperly restrained.
In some cases the occupant was out-of-position such as sitting
on the lap of another passenger.
Air bag risk is minimal when a driver sits 10–12 inches
from the steering wheel. Short-statured drivers should explore options
such as pedal extenders that allow them to sit farther back. Contact
the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association for information
Side air bags
Side impact air bags provide significant safety benefits to adults
in side impact crashes. More and more car manufacturers are
offering them as standard or optional equipment. Some cars and larger
SUVs are being equipped with inflatable curtains designed to protect
rear-seat occupants’ heads.
According to a recent J.D. Power survey of 50,000 people, 34% said
they “definitely want” side air bags, up from 18% in
1997. Another J.D. Power survey reveals that side air bags top the
list of 19 vehicle features that respondents said they wanted.
For a list of vehicles with side impact air bag head protection
systems, go to www.highwaysafety.org/vehicle_ratings/ratings.htm.
|Air Bag Statistics
(As of February 2004)
Over 146 million (67%) of the more than 218 million cars
and light trucks on US roads have driver air bags. Over
124 million (57.3%) of these also have passenger air bags.
Another 1 million new vehicles with air bags are sold
Deaths in frontal crashes are reduced about 26% among
drivers using safety belts and about 32% among drivers
Deaths in frontal crashes are reduced about 14% among
right front passengers using their belts and about 23%
among passengers without belts. However, deaths are about
34% higher than expected among child passengers younger
More than 13,967 people are alive today because of their
air bags (7,585 reported in December 2001), according
to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
NHTSA estimates that the combination of an air bag plus
a lap/shoulder belt reduces the risk of serious head injury
by 85%, compared with a 60% reduction for belts alone.
Since 1990, 238 deaths reportedly have been caused by
air bags inflating in low severity crashes. The fatalities
include 83 drivers, 11 adult passengers, 121 children
and 23 infants.
Of the 121 children killed by passenger air bags, 91
are believed to have been unrestrained, 25 were improperly
restrained and 5 were restrained.
Of the 83 drivers killed by air bags (21 males, 62 females),
53 are believed to have been unbelted, 23 were belted
and 4 misused their seatbelts. Belt use is unknown for
the other drivers.
- Of the 23 infants killed by air bags, 12 are believed
to have been restrained in rear-facing infant seats; 4 were
in rear-facing restraints on laps; 5 were not properly secured
in rear-facing restraints and in 2 cases restraint use was
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Updates available at: www.highwaysafety.org/safety_facts/airbags/stats.htm