Mr. Larry Clarke
4514 Fetke L
Rhinelander, WI 54501

Dear Mr. Clarke:

Senator Kohl asked me to respond to your question asking whether there is a law that stipulates that cars with air bags must have the air bags put back in after an accident. As discussed below, Federal law does not require replacement of a deployed air bag in a used vehicle. However, this subject area could be covered by State law.

By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle equipment. One of the standards we have issued is Standard No. 208, AOccupant Crash Protection@ (49 CFR 571.208). Manufacturers install air bags in passenger cars and light trucks as one method of complying with the occupant protection requirements of Standard No. 208.

While the Federal motor vehicle safety standards apply only to new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle equipment, Federal law does limit the modifications that can be made by certain businesses to used vehicles. Manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses are prohibited from "knowingly making inoperative" any device or element of a design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable safety standard (49 U.S.C. ' 30122).

While the "make inoperative" provision would prohibit a dealer or repair business from knowingly disabling safety equipment, such as an air bag, installed in compliance with an applicable safety standard, the provision does not impose an affirmative duty on dealers or other persons to repair equipment on a used vehicle that was damaged in a crash. Therefore, Federal law does not require replacement of a deployed air bag in a used vehicle.

Despite the absence of any requirement in Federal law, State law may require replacement of deployed air bags. You may wish to contact the State of Wisconsin to learn if there are any applicable laws or regulations. Additionally, you may wish to consult a private attorney with respect to potential liability of an owner or repair facility for failure to replace an air bag after a crash.

In addition to the legal considerations, I note that, for vehicles being repaired for road-use, NHTSA has long recommended the repair, restoration, or replacement of all safety systems that may have been damaged in a crash. These systems include the safety belts, air bag systems (including sensors), built-in child restraints, and other vehicle systems such as brakes, accelerator controls, transmission gear and "park" function, etc. If you or a repair facility need guidance as to which vehicle systems may require inspection or repair after a crash, we suggest that you contact the selling dealer, zone representative, and/or manufacturer of the vehicle in question.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact Stephen P. Wood, NHTSA's Assistant Chief Counsel for Rulemaking, at (202) 366-2992.


Ricardo Martinez, M.D.

cc: The Honorable Herb Kohl ref:208