Area auto dealers divided on issue of air bag switches

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 1/27/98.

Two of the three local car dealers in Paynesville state they will not install air bag switches in automobiles.

As of Monday, Jan. 19, qualified auto owners can have an air bag switch installed. However, many mechanics refuse because of liability issues.

The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association reports this view is commonly held, although some dealers can be found to install them.

ďThere are a lot of dealers concerned about liability issues in the event they install the switch and then perhaps not the person who ordered the switch but a friend or relative is driving the vehicle and is somehow injured. They are unsure whether there would be liability coming back to the dealership,Ē Jim Schutjer, association attorney, said.

Dan Wall, service manager atYarmon Ford and Mercury, Paynesville, said, they will not be installing air bag switches. Their corporations have directed them to do what they want, but are not forcing individual dealerships to install the switches.

Jon Hanson, service manager at Laubach Chevrolet, Paynesville, said General Motors has instructed them not to touch the issue. ďThere is nothing in writing that releases me from responsibility if someone is injured in an accident where the air bag switch is turned off,Ē he said.

Dick Johnson, owner of Vern Johnson Motors, Paynesville, said they will install the air bag switch under one condition, customers need to have a request form approved through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To obtain further information call 1-800-424-9393.

ďAir bags are great as they have been proven to save lives. But, one circumstance doesnít fit all individuals,Ē Johnson said. Johnson added he has had customers inquire about this earlier but they wouldnít consider installing the switch. However, with the changes in the rulings, they will now install the switch if they get the permission form.

ďSince turning off the switch isnít illegal, the customer deserves to get what they want,Ē Johnson said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater announced in November the Clinton administration would allow on-off switches for air bags on the driver and passenger sides for drivers who must sit close to the steering wheel, carry children in the front seat or have other special circumstances.

The relaxation of the rules is a response to the deaths of 87 children and adults since 1990 from the force of air-bag deployment. But the safety devices, now mandatory in new cars, also are credited with saving 2,620 lives.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the vast majority of people donít need an on-off switch. Almost everyone over age 12 is much safer with air bags than without them.

Who should consider installing an on-off switch?
ēPeople who must transport infants riding in rear-facing infant seats in the front passenger seat.
ēPeople who must transport children ages 1 to 12 in the front passenger seat.
ēDrivers who cannot change their customary driving position and keep 10 inches between the center of the steering wheel and the center of their breastbone.
ēPeople whose doctors say that, due to their medical condition, the air bag poses a special risk that outweighs the risk of hitting their head, neck or chest in a crash if the air bag is turned off.

Return to Archives