Air Bag Safety

As of February 1, 1998, air bags have saved 2,474 lives, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) . Air bags have reduced deaths in frontal crashes by about 30 percent among drivers and by about 27 percent among passengers.

However, as of February 1, 1998, 91 deaths have reportedly been caused by air bags inflating in low severity crashes. These deaths include 36 adult drivers, 4 adult passengers, 39 child passengers and 12 infants in rear-facing child seats. Most of these victims were unbelted or improperly belted. If small children sit unbelted in the front seat, they can be thrown into the path of a deploying air bag, which inflates with great force. This risk also applies to small adults who must sit close to the steering wheel to reach the pedals, pregnant women and the elderly. Infants in rear-facing safety seats on the passenger side can be severely injured because their heads are in the direct path of an inflating air bag.


Drivers should have all children sit in the backseat wearing a safety belt. Infants should be placed in rear-facing car seats and put in the backseat. Small adults should move the seat back so that their breastbone is at least 10 inches from the air bag cover. If these tips can not be performed, air bag switches can be installed so that the vehicle owner has the option of turning the bag off or on, depending on the situation. In January 1998, NHTSA allowed auto dealers and repair shops to begin installing air bag cut-off switches. Before the switch can be installed, vehicle owners must complete a four-step process:

  1. Obtain an information brochure and request form from NHTSA, dealerships or repair shops.
  2. Return the form to NHTSA.
  3. Receive authorization from NHTSA after it reviews the case.
  4. Take the vehicle to the service shop along with the authorization from NHTSA which certifies that the owner has read the brochure and met one of the four eligibility classifications