National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Parts 571 and 595
[Docket No. NHTSA-97-3111]
RIN 2127 - AG61

Air Bag On-Off Switches
(Air Bags No Longer Madatory after January 19, 1998)

SUMMARY: This final rule seeks to preserve the benefits of air bags, while
providing a means for reducing the risk of serious or fatal injury that
current air bags pose to identifiable groups of people, e.g., people who
cannot avoid sitting extremely close to air bags, people with certain
medical conditions, and young children. The benefits are substantial;
current air bags had saved about 2,620 drivers and passengers, as of
November 1, 1997. However, those air bags had also caused the death of 87
people in low speed crashes, as of that same date. Most of those people were
unbelted or improperly belted. Although vehicle manufacturers are beginning
to replace current air bags with new air bags having some advanced
attributes, i.e., attributes that will automatically avoid the risks created
by current air bags, an interim solution is needed now for those groups of
people at risk from current air bags in existing vehicles.

This final rule exempts motor vehicle dealers and repair businesses from the
statutory prohibition against making federally-required safety equipment
inoperative so that, beginning January 19, 1998, they may install retrofit
manual on-off switches for air bags in vehicles owned by or used by persons
whose requests for switches have been approved by the agency. While the
administrative process necessary to provide prior approval is more complex
than the process proposed by the agency in January 1997 for enabling vehicle
owners to obtain switches, prior approval is warranted by several
considerations. The requirement for prior approval of requests for switches
emphasizes to vehicle owners the importance of taking the safety
consequences of a decision to seek and use on-off switches very seriously.
While some people need and will be benefited by on-off switches, the vast
majority of people will not be. Further, checking the requests for switches
is more appropriately performed by the agency than by the dealers and repair
businesses who will install the switches. Finally, prior approval will
enable the agency to monitor directly, from the very beginning, the
implementation of the regulation and the effectiveness of its regulation and
the associated educational materials in promoting informed decisionmaking
about on-off switches.

Under the exemption, vehicle owners can request an on-off switch by filling
out an agency request form and submitting the form to the agency. On the
form, owners must certify that they have read an information brochure
discussing air bag safety and risks. The brochure describes the steps that
the vast majority of people can take to minimize the risk of serious
injuries from air bags while preserving the benefits of air bags, without
going to the expense of buying an on-off switch. The brochure was developed
by the agency to enable owners to determine whether they are, or a user of
their vehicle is, in one of the groups of people at risk of a serious air
bag injury and to make a careful, informed decision about requesting an
on-off switch. Owners must also certify that they or another user of their
vehicle is a member of one or the risk groups. Since the risk groups for
drivers are different from those for passengers, a separate certification
must be made on an agency request form for each air bag to be equipped with
an on-off switch.

If NHTSA approves a request, the agency will send the owner a letter
authorizing the installation of one or more on-off switches in the owner's
vehicle. The owner may give the authorization letter to any dealer or repair
business, which may then install an on-off switch for the driver or
passenger air bag or both, as approved by the agency. The on-off switch must
meet certain criteria, such as being equipped with a telltale light to alert
vehicle occupants when an air bag has been turned off. The dealer or repair
business must then fill in information about itself and its installation in
a form in the letter and return the form to the agency.

This final rule also denies a petition for reconsideration of the agency's
January 1997 decision in a separate rulemaking not to extend the option for
installing original equipment manufacturer on-off switches for passenger air
bags to all new vehicles equipped with air bags. As a result of that
decision, the option continues to apply only to those new vehicles lacking a
rear seat capable of accommodating a rear-facing infant restraint.


Effective Date: Part 595 is effective December 18, 1997. The agency will
begin processing air bag on-off switch requests on that same date. If a form
is submitted before December 18, it will be given the same priority as a
form submitted after that date. Accordingly, there will be no advantage to
submitting forms early. Motor vehicle dealers and repair businesses may
begin installing switches on January 19, 1998.

The amendments to Part 571 are effective January 19, 1998. Compliance with
those requirements is optional before that date.

Petitions: Petitions for reconsideration must be received by (insert date 45
days after publication in the Federal Register).

ADDRESSES: Petitions for reconsideration should refer to the docket number
of this rule and be submitted to: Administrator, National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590.


For information about air bags and related rulemaking: For additional
information, call the NHTSA Hotline at 1-800-424-9393; in the D.C. area,
call 202-366-0123. In addition, visit the NHTSA Web site at Among the available materials are
descriptions of the procedures for requesting authorization to obtain an
on-off switch and a list of questions and answers about air bags and on-off
switches. There are also crash videos showing what happens in a crash to a
belted, short-statured dummy whose driver air bag is turned off.

Source: NHTSA - DOT

Airbag statistics from NHTSA

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