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Notice to Readers Approval of Installation of Air Bag On-Off Switches For Certain Motor-Vehicle Owners

On November 18, 1997, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a final rule that allows vehicle owners who meet certain qualifying criteria to have air bag on-off switches installed in their vehicles beginning January 19, 1998. * The on-off switch can be installed for the driver, passenger, or both. Owners who certify that they or another occupant of their vehicle are in one of four identified risk groups can request and receive authorization from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have a switch installed. Additional information is available from NHTSA's World-Wide Web site ( or from the DOT Auto Safety Hotline ({800} 424-9393), where copies are available of the brochure Air Bags & On-Off Switches: Information for an Informed Decision and the form Request for Air Bag On-Off Switch. These materials also will be available at state motor-vehicle offices, automobile clubs, and some new car dealerships.

Reported by: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Div of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Air bags are effective in reducing many deaths and injuries in moderately severe frontal impact crashes (1). However, air bags also have posed special risks for children and short-stature persons who may be sitting too close to either the steering wheel or the dash board at the time of deployment (2,3).

Because air bags are designed to supplement the use of lap and shoulder belts and not to replace them, air bags alone do not protect occupants in every type of crash (e.g., rollover crashes). Combination lap and shoulder belts and child safety seats remain the most effective occupant-protection devices available. Therefore, all occupants of a motor vehicle should use combination lap and shoulder belts consistently, and all children aged less than or equal to 12 years should be transported in the back seat in age- and size-appropriate restraints. Regardless of whether the vehicle has an air bag and whether a vehicle owner or operator decides to install an on-off switch, the rear seat is the safest seating position.

The decision to have an on-off switch installed must be in accordance with the DOT ruling. If a switch is installed, however, drivers must exercise discretion when deciding to turn it on or off and must understand both the circumstances in which the air bag poses unusual injury risks and when the air bag can provide additional protective benefits. Because the occurrence of crashes with air bag deployment cannot be predicted, drivers and front-seat passengers should always position themselves as far back from the air bag as possible, and all occupants should be properly restrained at all times.


  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Effectiveness of occupant protection systems and their use: third report to Congress. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1996.

  2. CDC. Update: fatal air bag-related injuries to children -- United States, 1993-1996. MMWR 1996;45:1073-6.

  3. Braver ER, Ferguson SA, Greene MA, Lund AK. Reductions in deaths in frontal crashes among right front passengers in vehicles equipped with passenger air bags. JAMA 1997;278:1438-9.

* 49 CFR Parts 571 and 595.

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Page converted: 09/19/98


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