Airbag Update
Site Map


Chapter 1
- Auto Insurance: An Overview
- Factors That Affect Auto Insurance: From a Company Standpoint
- Factors That Affect Auto Insurance: From a Consumer Standpoint
- Factors That Affect Auto Insurance: Age and Its Impact
- Factors That Affect Auto Insurance: Hospital and Medical Costs
- Auto Insurance Markets
- 1998 Passenger Vehicles Insured Through Voluntary and Involuntary Plans by State
- 2000 Auto Insurance Premiums in Selected Ohio Cities
- 1998 US Auto Insurance Premiums by State
- Where the Auto Insurance Premium Dollar Goes in Ohio and US
- Auto Repair Costs in Selected Ohio Cities 1996 vs. 2000
- How to Save Money on Auto Insurance
- Competitive Auto Replacement Parts
- Average Auto Repair Cost Comparisons for Specific Parts—1997 vs. 2001
- Average New Car Expenditures—1995-99
- 1999 Top Selling Vehicles in the US
- 1999 Top Selling Vehicles in the US by Type and Color
- 1998-99 Ohio Licensed Drivers by County
- 1998-99 Ohio Motor Vehicle Registrations by County
Airbag Update
- Settling an Auto Insurance Claim
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
OII Sound-Off Page

Auto dealers and repair shops began installing airbag 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 airbags). Actual installations reported in Ohio through October 30, 1999 equated to 60 per million registered vehicles. This included 290 for driver side only, 103 for passenger side only, and 117 for both driver and passenger side airbags for a total of 510 reported installations.

Actions leading to the cutoff switch ruling

NHTSA began issuing warnings in 1991 regarding the potential risk of airbag 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 airbags. 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 airbag 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 airbag. These labels are affixed to both sides of 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 prominently on child safety seats.

Federal airbag requirements were phased in over several years. 90% of 1997 model year cars were required to be equipped with airbags, with full compliance beginning with the 1998 model year. Airbags were also required in all 1999 model light trucks and vans. Due to market demand, most automakers exceeded the timetable.

Cutoff switch requirements

The overwhelming majority of Americans and their families should not be affected by the ruling regarding the installation of on-off airbag 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 airbag on-off switches on a case-by-case basis. The process and application form are available on NHTSA’s website,

Liability issue

Some repair businesses and auto dealerships have expressed reluctance to install these switches due to potential liability. According to NHTSA, all vehicle manufacturers who are producing on-off switches have agreed to indemnify their dealers for all causes of action other than negligence. Manufacturers will be able to 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 instance, a Ford dealership may limit on-off switch installation to Ford vehicles only.

As of November 10, 2000 there were 57 Ohio auto dealerships and repair shops listed on NHTSA’s website ( as facilities that install airbag on-off switches.

New occupant protection standards

After consideration for almost two years, NHTSA passed regulations that upgrade occupant protection standards and require more comprehensive crash test procedures. The new rule follows a Congressional mandate to improve protection offered by airbags while minimizing the potential to cause harm upon deployment.

Crash tests will now require the use of dummies representing ages one, three and five, as well as small-statured females.

The strength of the new standard is that it will require minimum levels of protection for unbelted and belted occupants in high-speed crashes while reducing the risk of airbag-induced injury and injury to out-of-position occupants (predominantly unbelted). The new standards do not guarantee that occupants will remain injury-free when airbags inflate. Airbag warning labels affixed to sun visors and dashboards will convey this message.

Advanced airbags meeting the new standard will be required starting with 2004 model vehicles. Automakers will be required to certify an increasing percentage of their fleet each year. All new vehicles are to comply with the new airbag standard after August, 2006.

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 is to be fully implemented by 2010. Additional information on the new standard is available on NHTSA’s website or download the IIHS’ June 17, 2000 “Status Report” that outlines the new standards from

Airbag effectiveness

The fact remains that airbags save lives. The information below outlines the latest statistics at close of publishing. Most airbag fatalities are due to driver or passenger error, meaning that the occupant was unbuckled, not properly buckled, placed incorrectly in a car seat or, in the case of some child fatalities, a child was sitting on the front passenger’s lap and was too close to the instrument panel at the time of airbag deployment.

Airbag risk is minimal if a driver can sit 10–12 inches from the steering wheel. Short-statured drivers should explore additional options. This may include pedal extenders that allow them to sit farther back. Contact the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association for information at 1-800-833-0427.

The AAA also recommends that drivers hold steering wheels at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, rather than the 10 and 2 positions. The wider hand position reduces the risk of injury to wrists and forearms, or possibly driving them into the face or chest.

 Airbag Statistics

(As of October 16, 2000)

  • Over 104 million (50.7%) of the nearly 206 million vehicles on US roads have driver airbags, compared to 94 million (46.3%) reported in November, 1999. More than 78 million (32.9%) of these also have passenger airbags, up from 66 million (32.9%) a year ago. Another 1 million new vehicles with airbags are being sold monthly.
  • Through 10/16/00, driver-side airbags inflated in over 3.3 million vehicles in crashes. More than 570,000 passenger-side airbags have inflated when a passenger was occupying the right front seat.
  • Deaths in frontal crashes are reduced about 26% among drivers using safety belts and about 32% among drivers without belts.
  • 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 than 10.
  • More than 6,018 people are alive today because of their airbags (4,750 a year ago), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • NHTSA estimates that the combination of an airbag plus a lap/shoulder belt reduces the risk of serious head injury by 81%, compared with a 60% reduction for belts alone.
  • Since 1990, 168 deaths reportedly have been caused by airbags inflating in low severity crashes. These deaths include 63 drivers, 6 adult passengers (belted 98- and 64-year-old females, an unbelted 57-year-old male and unbelted 88-, 79- and 66-year-old females), 81 children between the ages of 1 and 11, and 18 infants (15 restrained in rear-facing infant seats and 3 on adult passengers’ laps).
  • Of the 81 children killed by passenger airbags, 64 are believed to have been unbelted, 2 were in forward-facing child restraints that weren’t properly secured, 8 are believed to have been using lap belts only and 4 were thought to be using lap/shoulder belts. Belt use is unknown for the other child. Most crashes involved pre-impact braking and/or children sitting on front passenger lap, so that they were close to the dashboard upon airbag deployment.
  • Of the 63 drivers killed by airbags (14 male, 49 females), 41 are believed to have been unbelted and 21 are believed to have been using lap/shoulder belts (5 of these may have misused their belts, 2 were unconscious and slumped over their steering wheels so they were on top of their airbags, 2 used the shoulder belt only and 1 used the lap belt only). Belt use is unknown for the other driver.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety