The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-1501

Dear Senator Grassley:

Thank you for your December 20, 1995, letter, addressed to the Federal Highway Administration, concerning a request from your constituent, Dr. D. Jean Arnold. Dr. Arnold is disabled and would like to have the air bag legally removed from her car. You asked for any information pertaining to this matter. As discussed below, Dr. Arnold previously contacted this agency about this matter and, on December 11, 1995, we sent her a letter which we believe will resolve her concern.

By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA has exercised this authority to establish Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection (49 CFR 571.208), which specifies performance requirements for the protection of vehicle occupants in crashes. Air bags are installed in cars as a means of complying with this standard.

The removal or deactivation of an air bag by a vehicle dealer or repair business is governed by a provision of Federal law, 49 U.S.C. '30122. The section provides that:

A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard.

However, in certain limited situations in which a vehicle must be modified to accommodate the needs of a person with a particular disability or a person's special medical needs, NHTSA has stated that it would consider violations of the "make inoperative" prohibition as purely technical ones justified by public need, and that it would not institute enforcement proceedings.

In our December 11, 1995, letter to Dr. Arnold, we advised that, given her disability, we would not institute enforcement proceedings against a repair business that disconnects an air bag on her vehicle to accommodate her condition. I have enclosed a copy of that letter for your information. We hope that this letter will resolve Dr. Arnold=s concern.

I hope this information is helpful. If you or Dr. Arnold have any further questions about this matter, please feel free to contact me at (202) 366-2105.


Carol Stroebel Director of Intergovernmental Affairs

Enclosure ref:208 d:1/25/96