People with Medical Conditions 

Some individuals may have certain 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. These individuals may request permission for installation of an air bag ON-OFF switch or air bag deactivation for either the driver or passenger frontal air bag. See ON-OFF Switch/Deactivation for additional information.

The list of approved medical conditions is the same whether a consumer is requesting permission for a frontal air bag ON-OFF switch or requesting permission for frontal air bag deactivation. NHTSA will only consider requests for deactivation when the vehicle manufacturer does not make an ON-OFF switch available for the vehicle.

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 recommended disconnecting an air bag if a safe sitting distance or position cannot be maintained by a:

  • Driver because of scoliosis or achondroplasia, or
  • 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.

The panel did not, however, 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.

(Download the full Conference Report)