If the vehicle manufacturer does not make an ON-OFF switch available for a particular vehicle, NHTSA will authorize deactivation for the following reasons only:
A rear-facing infant restraint must be placed in the front seat of a vehicle because there is no back seat or the back seat is too small for the child restraint. (For the passenger air bag only.)
A child 12 years old or younger must ride in the front seat because the child has a condition that requires frequent medical monitoring in the front seat. (For the passenger air bag only,.)
An individual with a medical condition is safer if the frontal air bag is turned off. A written statement from a physician must accompany each request based on a medical condition unless the request is based on a medical condition for which the National Conference on Medical Indications for Air Bag Deactivation recommends deactivation. (For driver and/or passenger frontal air bag as appropriate.)
Drivers must sit within a few inches of the air bag (typically because they are of extremely small-stature, i.e., four feet, six inches or less). (For the driver frontal air bag only.)
Provided one of the above four conditions are met, the agency will continue to grant deactivation requests even if an aftermarket parts manufacturer makes an ON-OFF switch available for those vehicles. Requests for deactivation will be approved until September 1, 2012.
If you want air bag deactivation for any of the above reasons, describe the reason in a letter and send it to: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Attention: Air Bag Deactivation Requests (W-51), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, 20590. Deactivation is not available for any other reasons. The request can also be faxed to 202-493-2833.
The request must contain the following:
The justification for the request (must be one of four conditions as stated in Under what circumstances will NHTSA allow air bag deactivation?). The letter should be as specific as possible about the justification and state whether the request applies to the driver or passenger air bag, or both.
A statement from a physician based on a medical condition—only if the condition is not one for which the National Conference recommended deactivation (see What are the medical conditions for which an air bag may be deactivated?). The physician's statement must identify the particular condition of the patient and include the physician's judgment that:
The potential harm from the air bag outweighs the potential harm from turning off the air bag and allowing the person's head, neck or breastbone to hit the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield. Note: Hitting the vehicle interior is likely in a moderate to severe crash, even if the person is using seat belt
If the request concerns a child who must ride in the front seat to enable the driver to monitor the child's medical condition, the supporting physician's statement must identify the condition and state that frequent monitoring by the driver is necessary.
The agency will respond in writing, enclosing a copy of an information brochure, labels to be attached to the vehicle interior for alerting vehicle users about the deactivated air bags, and a form to be filled out and mailed back to the agency regarding the deactivation.
If your request has been granted, call the vehicle dealer or a repair business and ask if they will disconnect the air bag. Some dealers and repair businesses have a policy of not disconnecting air bags. NHTSA has no authority to require them to do so—it is the dealer's decision. You may have to look around to find a qualified automotive mechanic or technician who will disconnect the air bag.
NHTSA strongly urges you to have the air bag reactivated if the condition that caused the deactivation ceases to exist, or if you sell the vehicle. If you do not reactivate the air bag upon sale, you should inform the new owner that the air bag has been deactivated.
If the agency denies a request, it will give the reason for the denial. The reason may be that there was not enough explanatory or supporting information submitted for NHTSA to approve the request. In that event, the request may be resubmitted with the necessary information. If a request was denied because you do not provide an accepted justification, you may still request an air bag ON-OFF switch in order to turn off the air bag(s).
At NHTSA's request, the Ronald Reagan Institute of Emergency Medicine convened an expert panel of physicians to formulate recommendations on specific medical indications for air bag disconnection (deactivation) at the National Conference on Medical Indications for Air Bag Disconnection (July 16-18, 1997, George Washington Medical Center, Washington, DC). The panel consisted of 17 physicians, each nominated by a professional society or organization. The medical conditions considered were provided by NHTSA as the most common concerns expressed by members of the public in regard to disconnection requests.
The panel did not recommend disconnecting bags for pacemakers, supplemental oxygen, eyeglasses, median sternotomy, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, asthma, breast reconstruction, mastectomy, scoliosis (if the person is capable of being positioned properly), previous back or neck surgery, previous facial reconstructive surgery or facial injury, hyperacusis, tinnitus, advanced age, osteogenesis imperfecta, osteoporosis and arthritis (if the person can sit back at a safe distance from the air bag), previous ophthalmologic surgery, Down syndrome and atlantoaxial instability (if the person can reliably sit properly aligned in the front seat), or pregnancy.
The panel did, however, recommend disconnecting an air bag if a safe sitting distance or position cannot be maintained by a:
Passenger because of scoliosis or Down syndrome and atlantoaxial instability. The physicians also noted that a passenger air bag might have to be turned off if an infant or child has a medical condition and must ride in front so that he or she can be monitored.
You can search the database of vehicles by vehicle identification number (VIN) to see if one or both of the frontal air bags have been permanently deactivated. Visit Airbag VIN Number
The final rule for airbag deactivation can be viewed at the DOT's docket at Regulations.gov. Search on docket #3111 or for document #NHTSA-1997-3111-1. See section IX on Implementation of Agency Decision, Part A.