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U.S. Department of Transportation
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C.


NHTSA 2-04
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Contact: Tim Hurd
Telephone: (202) 366-9550

Survey Finds Widespread Misuse Of Air Bag On-Off Switches in Pickups

Air bag switches are often misused, needlessly endangering children and depriving adults of life-saving protection, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey has found.

"Airbags can be real lifesavers if used properly but pose grave risk to small children," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, MD. "We must redouble our education efforts to help consumers understand what constitutes proper use."

More than 12 million pickup trucks and a smaller number of passenger cars and cargo vans without rear seats are equipped with air bag on-off switches. Proper use of the switches requires drivers to turn the air bag off for children 12 and under but activate it when the passenger seat is occupied by an adult.

  The NHTSA survey found:  

  • Drivers with children in rear-facing child safety seats achieved the highest rate of correct use of the air bag switch - 86 percent.
  • On average, 48 percent of air bag switches were incorrectly left on for child passengers, aged 12 and under.
  • Air bag switches were incorrectly turned off for 17 percent of teenage and adult passengers.

On-off switches were first permitted in limited circumstances in May 1995 as an interim device pending the development of advanced air bag systems. The use of on-off switches will be eliminated as advanced air bag systems are put into vehicles. This phase-out will be complete by Model Year 2013.

NHTSA researchers surveyed the air bag status in 3,182 pickup trucks between July 1 and Nov. 22, 2000 at sites in California , Georgia , Michigan and Texas . An Internet link to the full technical report is at Air Bag On-Off Switches Survey.

U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
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