An air bag ON-OFF switch allows either the driver or passenger frontal air bag in passenger cars and light trucks to be turned on and off in appropriate circumstances. Only authorized dealers and repair shops can install ON-OFF switches and can do so only with an authorization letter from NHTSA. Vehicle owners can get this authorization letter by filling out a request form (Request for Air Bag On-Off Switch pdf) and sending it to the agency. ON-OFF switch requests will be approved until September 1, 2012.
Vehicle owners can get air bag ON-OFF switches installed for one or both of the frontal air bags in their vehicles if they, or users of their vehicle, fall into one or more of the four specific risk groups below:
Individuals with medical conditions where the risks of a deploying air bag exceed the risk of impacting the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield in the absence of an air bag. (For both driver and passenger side.)
Individuals who cannot position themselves to properly operate the vehicle with breastbone at least 10 inches back from the center of the steering wheel air bag cover. (For driver side only.)
Individuals with the need to transport an infant in a rear-facing child restraint in the front seat because the vehicle has no rear seat, the rear seat is too small to accommodate a rear-facing child restraint, or because it is necessary to constantly monitor the child's medical condition. (For passenger side only.)
Individuals with the need to carry children between one year old and 12 years old in the front seat because the vehicle has no rear seat, the consumer must carry more children than can be accommodated in the rear seat, or because it is necessary to constantly monitor a child's medical condition. (For passenger side only.)
If you are interested in having an air bag ON-OFF switch installed in a vehicle you own or lease (check with the leasing company first to see if installing an ON-OFF switch would violate the terms of your lease), you will need to:
Read the brochure carefully before filling out the form. You may decide that an ON-OFF switch is not appropriate for you. If you decide to request an ON-OFF switch, you must fill out and submit the request form to NHTSA. The mailing address and fax number are provided on the form. For a faster response, write your phone number on the form and fax it to: 202-493-2833. For questions, call the Air Bag Division at 202-366-0296. You will need to certify on the request form that you have read the brochure and that you (or other occupants of your vehicle) fall into one or more of the risk groups for the air bag(s) for which you request a switch. If the form is properly and completely filled out, NHTSA will then send you an authorization letter that you can take to your dealer or repair shop.
You should check with your auto dealer or repair shop to see if an ON-OFF switch is available for your vehicle and how much the switch will cost. If a switch is available and the dealer or repair shop is willing to install it, give the authorization letter directly to the dealer or repair business. After the dealer or repair shop installs the ON-OFF switch, they will return a form along with the authorization letter to NHTSA, indicating the work has been done for you.
If the manufacturer of your vehicle does not make an air bag ON-OFF switch for your model, check with a dealer or repair shop to see whether an aftermarket company makes a switch. If there is an aftermarket switch for your model, a dealer or repair shop can install it for you. Note that there are Federal requirements governing ON-OFF switches. For example, they must be operated by a key and be equipped with warning lights to indicate when an air bag has been switched off.
Generally, no. If an air bag ON-OFF switch is available from the vehicle manufacturer for a particular vehicle, eligible consumers desiring to disable their air bags must have an ON-OFF switch installed. A dealer or repair shop cannot simply deactivate (or disconnect) the air bags.
If an ON-OFF switch is not available from the vehicle manufacturer for a particular vehicle, NHTSA will authorize air bag deactivation on a case-by-case basis under certain circumstances. If an ON-OFF switch is available only from an aftermarket company, NHTSA still will authorize air bag deactivation for eligible people (see Air Bag Deactivation).
The final rule for air bag ON-OFF switches can be viewed at the DOT's docket at Regulations.gov. Search on docket #3111 or for document #NHTSA-1997-3111-1. See section VIII on Agency Decision to Issue Exemptions Authorizing Installation of Retrofit ON-OFF Switches and section IX on Implementation of Agency Decision, Part B.