Air Bag Technology, Inc.
15 Hammond, Suite 304
Irvine, CA 92718
Dear Mr. Farshchian:
This responds to your letters concerning two devices that you have designed to deactivate passenger air bags under certain circumstances. I apologize for the delay in our response.
You call the first device an "air bag deployment restrictor." This device would detect a passenger's size and distance from the air bag and automatically deactivate the air bag under circumstances in which deployment would "prove hazardous." The second device would allow the owner of "any motor vehicle containing a passenger side air bag to able or disable that air bag with the flick of a switch without disabling the entire air bag system." I note that we would categorize your first device as an "automatic" cut-off device, and your second device as a "manual" cut-off device. You indicated that the devices might be sold in the aftermarket or for installation during the manufacture of the vehicle. You asked whether these devices are permitted under Department of Transportation regulations. Your question is addressed below.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues safety standards for new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle equipment. The agency does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles or equipment meet all applicable standards.
One of the standards issued by this agency is Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection. Manufacturers install air bags in passenger cars and light trucks in order to comply with this standard.
If either of your devices were installed as original equipment on a new vehicle, the vehicle manufacturer would be required to certify that, with the device installed, the vehicle satisfies the requirements of all applicable safety standards, including Standard No. 208. If the device were added to a previously certified new motor vehicle prior to its first consumer purchase, then the person who modifies the vehicle would be an alterer of a previously certified motor vehicle and would be required to certify that, as altered, the vehicle continues to comply with all of the safety standards affected by the alteration.
NHTSA has previously addressed the question of whether automatic cut-off devices and manual cut-off devices are permitted for passenger air bags under Standard No. 208. The standard does not preclude the use of automatic cut-off devices for passenger air bags so long as the dummy performance requirements are met in the specific dynamic crash conditions specified in the standard. For example, an unbelted 50th percentile male passenger dummy would have to be protected in the barrier crash test or alternative sled test specified by the standard.
Standard No. 208 expressly addresses the circumstances under which manual cut-off devices are permitted. See S4.5.4. The standard limits the types of vehicles which are permitted to have manual cut-off devices and also specifies a number of requirements for manual cut-off devices that must be satisfied. For example, the manual cut-off device must deactivate the air bag by means of the ignition key and require manual reactivation of the air bag once deactivated. The standard also specifies certain requirements for an accompanying warning light, and the option for manual cut-off devices is only available for vehicles manufactured before September 1, 2000.
I have enclosed a copy of the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and the final rule establishing Standard No. 208's requirements for manual cut-off switches, as well as a recent final rule extending the option until September 1, 2000. I have also enclosed a copy of an NPRM. addressing air bag deactivation, which discusses manual cut-off switches as a possible means of deactivation.
I also note that, since both of your devices would include indicator lights, you should also check whether they would comply with Standard No. 101, Controls and Displays.
If one of your devices were installed on a used vehicle by a business such as a dealer or repair business, then the installer would not be required to attach a certification label. However, Federal law prohibits dealers and repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative devices, such as air bags, installed to comply with a safety standard. See 49 U.S.C. 30122. In general, this "make inoperative" prohibition would prevent a dealer or repair business from installing one of your devices if the effect of such installation would be to take the vehicle out of compliance with one or more safety standards. For example, a dealer or repair business could not add manual cut-off devices to types of vehicles for which such devices are prohibited, but could add them to types of vehicles for which they are permitted (assuming all of the conditions specified in Standard No. 208 are met). The "make inoperative" prohibition does not apply to modifications made by persons to their own vehicles. Such modifications may, however, be covered by State laws.
Enclosed is an information sheet we have prepared to provide general information for new manufacturers of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Also enclosed is a copy of an information sheet explaining how to obtain copies of our standards.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Edward Glancy of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel