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Air Bag Related Vehicle Modifications

Steering Wheel Air Bag Modifications

The steering wheel air bag can be affected by numerous vehicle modifications. 


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What Legal Requirements Must be met to Alter the Steering Wheel Air Bag?

If the Air Bag is Affected as part of other vehicle modifications requiring an allowed FMVSS exemption

If the steering wheel air bag is being disabled as part of a project that will require other FMVSS exemption to be taken by the vehicle modifier, then a FMVSS exemption is taken to perform the air bag alteration and no NHTSA approval or pre-approval is required.

If the Air Bag is the only modification or is being done as part of other vehicle modifications that do not require an allowed FMVSS exemption




Under what kinds of conditions, can I disable my air bag?


Under what situations, can I ask for permission to install an ON-OFF switch on my air bag?

Air bag ON-OFF switches can be installed for either one or both of the frontal air bags in their vehicles.  The car occupant must have one of the following conditions:


Medical Conditions and Air Bags

At NHTSA's request, the Ronald Reagan Institute of Emergency Medicine convened an expert panel of physicians to formulate recommendations on specific medical indications for air bag disconnection (deactivation) at the National Conference on Medical Indications for Air Bag Disconnection (July 16-18, 1997, George Washington Medical Center, Washington, DC). The panel consisted of 17 physicians, each nominated by a professional society or organization. The medical conditions considered were provided by NHTSA as the most common concerns expressed by members of the public in regard to disconnection requests.

The panel recommended disconnecting an air bag if a safe sitting distance or position cannot be maintained by a:

The panel did not, however, recommend disabling air bags for pacemakers, supplemental oxygen, eyeglasses, median sternotomy, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, asthma, breast reconstruction, mastectomy, scoliosis (if the person is capable of being positioned properly), previous back or neck surgery, previous facial reconstructive surgery or facial injury, hyperacusis, tinnitus, advanced age, osteogenesis imperfecta, osteoporosis and arthritis (if the person can sit back at a safe distance from the air bag), previous ophthalmologic surgery, Down syndrome and atlantoaxial instability (if the person can reliably sit properly aligned in the front seat), or pregnancy.  The full report with details for each medical condition can be read online.

The panel emphasized that air bags are proven effective in both saving lives and preventing injuries.

Knee Bolster Air Bag Modifications


Turnout or Rotating Seat Vehicle Modifications and their affect on the Air Bag


How Should an Air Bag be Properly Disabled?


How Should an Air Bag be Modified with an ON-OFF Switch?



What Requirements Does an Air Bag ON-OFF Switch Have to Meet?


What Companies can Disable by Air Bag or Install an ON-OFF Switch?

Only authorized dealers and repair shops registered with NHTSA as a vehicle modifier can install ON-OFF switches or disable your airbag using an allowed FMVSS exemption.  If an ON-OFF switch is being installed, the dealer or modifier must have the authorization letter from NHTSA. 


Frequently Asked Questions About Air Bags and Vehicle Modifications

What is an air bag ON-OFF switch?  A switch that allows the front driver or passenger air bag to be turned on or off depending on the needs of the occupant.

What is the difference between disabling an air bag and installing an ON-OFF switch?  Disabling permanently prevents the air bag from operating.  This affects not only the person for which this might be intended, but other occupants as well.   Of course disabling the a driver air bag does not affect the front passenger air bag and vice versa.  At least it shouldn't if the air bag is properly disabled.

What if I just don't believe in or like air bags, can't I just disable the air bag in the car I own?  No.  A dealer or repair shop will not disable your air bag without the proper authorization paperwork from NHTSA.  Removing an air bag is a very dangerous project and should NEVER be undertaken by an individual to their own car. 

What if an air bag ON-OFF switch is not available for my car?  If no ON-OFF switch is available from the manufacturer, investigate if an aftermarket ON-OFF switch is available.  If one is available, it should be used.  If an aftermarket switch is not available, you can ask NHTSA for permission to disable the air bag instead.

Is it safe for a short stature adult to be seated in the front passenger seat of a vehicle equipped with a front passenger air bag? Yes. The passenger should wear their seatbelts and the seat should be moved as far rearward as possible, and recline the seat back slightly.





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