January 30, 2004

Survey finds widespread misuse of airbag on/off switches in pickups

Washington, D.C. – A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey has found that airbag switches in pickup trucks are often misused, placing children and adults at greater risk of injury in a collision.

“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.

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. 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.

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