U.S. Department of

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. 20590

Tuesday, November 18, 1997
NHTSA 59-97
Contact: Phil Frame
Tel. No.: (202) 366-9550


Continuing the Department of Transportation's comprehensive effort to preserve the benefits of air bags and minimize their risks, consumers fitting certain risk profiles will be able to purchase an on-off switch to temporarily deactivate the device under a plan announced today.

In addition to making air bag on-off switches available under limited circumstances, it was announced that a national public-private educational campaign is being launched to help consumers make informed decisions concerning switches.

"This is the practical solution that allows you to turn off the air bag for someone at risk and turn it back on to preserve the lifesaving benefits for everyone else," said Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater.

Secretary Slater cautioned, however, that few people will need the new air bag on-off switches. Air bags provide life-saving benefits for the vast majority of people, who can virtually eliminate any risk from deployments by following basic safety rules:

Under the new rule developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, auto dealers and service outlets can begin installing on-off switches on Jan. 19, 1998.

To obtain a switch, consumers must follow a simple four-step process. First, they must obtain a NHTSA information brochure and a request form, both of which will be available from the agency and at vehicle dealerships, repair shops, state motor vehicle offices, and other locations.

Second, they must fill out the request form and send it to NHTSA. Vehicle owners must certify on the form that they have read the information brochure and that they fit one of four profiles of people at risk.

Third, NHTSA will send an authorization letter to the vehicle owner.

Finally, the vehicle owner would take the letter to a dealership or other service outlet to have an on-off switch installed.

The four eligibility profiles are:

To help consumers make informed and appropriate decisions about air bag safety, the Department of Transportation today began a major educational effort in partnership with many organizations, including the Air Bag Safety Campaign, the American Automobile Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, auto dealers, state motor vehicle departments, and many other public and private organizations and individual companies.

These partners will help distribute millions of copies of NHTSA's information brochure, include air bag safety information in publications, answer questions from the public, and conduct other media activities.

The rule announced today addresses the risks from the current generation of air bags in vehicles already on the road and those that will be built during the next few years. Continued changes and emerging technologies will lead to air bags with improved performance that eliminate risks to all vehicle passengers. NHTSA is leading an aggressive research effort with the goal of issuing a proposal on advanced air bags in the first half of 1998.

This action builds upon a comprehensive series of actions that have been taken to preserve the benefits of air bags while reducing their risks:

Consumers who have questions or concerns about air bags should contact the agency's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9393. For up-to-date information on air bag issues, contact NHTSA's site on the World Wide Web at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click on the air bag icon or alternatively you may click here for detailed NHTSA air bag information mirrored at AUTOPEDIA.