Air Bags | NHTSA (2024)

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Air bags are supplemental protection and are designed to work best in combination with seat belts. Both frontal and side-impact air bags are generally designed to deploy in moderate to severe crashes and may deploy in even a minor crash.

Air bags reduce the chance that your upper body or head will strike the vehicle's interior during a crash. Toavoid an air-bag-related injury, make sure you are properly seated and remember—air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them. And children under 13 should sit in theback seat.

How Air Bags Work

Traffic Safety Facts

Vehicles can be equipped with both front and side air bags. Frontal air bags have been standard equipment in all passenger vehicles since the late 1990s. Side air bags are being offered as standard or optional equipment on many new passenger vehicles.

Air Bag Deployment

Generally, when there is a moderate to severe crash, a signal is sent from the air bag system's electronic control unit to an inflator within the air bag module. An igniter in the inflator starts a chemical reaction that produces a harmless gas, which inflates the air bag within the blink of an eye – or less than 1/20th of a second. Because air bags deploy very rapidly, serious or sometimes fatal injuries can occur if the driver or passenger is too close to – or comes in direct contact with – the air bag when it first begins to deploy.

Frontal Air Bags

Sitting as far back from the steering wheel or dashboard as possible and using seat belts help prevent drivers and passengers from being "too close" to a deploying frontal air bag. This is why rear-facing car seats should not be placed in front of an active air bag, and children under 13 should be seated in the back seat.

Side Air Bags

Side-impact air bags inflate even more quickly since there is less space between the driver or passengers and the striking object, whether the interior of the vehicle, another vehicle, a tree, or a pole.

Stay Protected: Replace Used Air Bags After a Crash

Air bags can only deploy once, so make sure you replace used air bags right away after a crash, only at an authorized repair center, and before you drive the vehicle again.

The Topic

Takata air bags, installed in tens of millions of U.S. vehicles, are subject to recall due to a safety defect that may cause them to explode and result in serious injury or death. If your car or truck is included in this list of Takata air bag-affected vehicles, contact your dealer for the appropriate repair. For full coverage of the Takata recall, support for consumers, and the latest news, visit NHTSA’s Recalls Spotlight.

URGENT: Air Bag Safety Recalls

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There are few circ*mstances under which the risk of sitting in front of an active frontal air bag outweigh the safety benefits. Under these circ*mstances, NHTSA will authorize the installation of an air bag ON-OFF switch. Authorization will be granted under the following four circ*mstances:

  1. A rear-facing infant restraint must be placed in the front seat of a vehicle because there is no rear seat or the rear seat is too small for the child restraint. (For the passenger air bag only.)
  2. A child under 13 years of age must ride in the front seat because the child has a condition that requires frequent medical monitoring in the front seat. (For the passenger air bag only.)
  3. An individual with a medical condition is safer if the frontal air bag is turned off. A written statement from a physician must accompany each request based on a medical condition unless the request is based on a medical condition for which the National Conference on Medical Indications for Air Bag Deactivation recommends deactivation. (For driver and/or passenger frontal air bag as appropriate.)
  4. A driver must sit within a few inches of the air bag, typically because she or he is of extremely small stature (i.e., 4 feet6 inches or less). (For the driver frontal air bag only.)

In those instances where an ON-OFF switch is not made for a particular vehicle, NHTSA will consider allowing an air bag to be deactivated. The approval process for deactivation is more rigorous because, while an ON-OFF switch allows the driver or passenger frontal air bag to be turned on and off in appropriate circ*mstances, deactivation is not so flexible. Once deactivated, an air bag cannot be easily activated for those drivers or passengers who may need it.

ON-OFF Switch/Deactivation

Only authorized dealers and repair shops can install ON-OFF switches and can do so only with an authorization letter from NHTSA. If you are interested in having an air bag ON-OFF switch installed in a vehicle you own or lease (check with the leasing company first to see if installing an ON-OFF switch would violate the terms of your lease), you will need to:

  • Read the brochure, Air Bags & On-Off Switches: Information for an Informed Decision (PDF, 648.74 KB) or request a copy by mail.
  • Download the Request for Air Bag On-Off Switch form (PDF, 529.13 KB) or request a copy by mail.
  • Before filling out the form, ensure you have read the brochure carefully: you may decide that an ON-OFF switch is not appropriate for you.
  • If you decide to request an ON-OFF switch, you will need to certify on the request form that you have read the brochure and that you (or other drivers/passengers of your vehicle) fall into one or more of the high-risk groups for the air bag(s) for which you request a switch.
  • Fill out and submit the request form to NHTSA at the following address:
    • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
      Attention: Air Bag Switch Requests
      1200 New Jersey AvenueSE.
      Washington, DC 20590-1000
  • For a faster response, write your phone number on the form and fax it to: 202-493-2833 or 202-366-6916. For questions, call the Air Bag Division at 202-366-6982.
  • If the form is properly and completely filled out, NHTSA will review the document and, if approved, will send you an authorization letter that you can take to your dealer or repair shop.
  • Check with your auto dealer or repair shop to see if an ON-OFF switch is available for your vehicle and how much the switch will cost. If a switch is available and the dealer or repair shop is willing to install it, give the authorization letter directly to the dealer or repair business. After the dealer or repair shop installs the ON-OFF switch, they will return a form along with the authorization letter to NHTSA, indicating the work has been done for you.

The Topic

Why do air bags sometimes fail to deploy during a crash?

The activation of an air bag in a crash is dependent on several important factors including: the characteristics of the crash (e.g., speed, other vehicles involved, impact direction); the individual vehicle air bag system's design strategy; and the crash sensor locations. Air bags are not intended to deploy in all crashes. There may be circ*mstances when an air bag does not deploy. Some possible examples follow:

  • The crash conditions may be sufficiently moderate where an air bag would not be needed to protect an occupant wearing a seat belt. The seat belt may provide sufficient protection from a head or chest injury in such a crash.
  • Many advanced frontal air bag systems automatically turn off the passenger air bag when the vehicle detects a small-stature passenger or child, a child in a child restraint system, or no occupant in the right front passenger seat.
  • Some advanced side air bag systems will similarly shut off the passenger side air bag system when detecting a small-stature passenger or child in the right front passenger seat who is positioned too close to the side air bag.
  • In used vehicles, a possible reason for the air bag not to deploy is that the air bag may not have been replaced after a previous crash. NHTSA recommends that air bags always be replaced after a deployment. Any air bag that fails to deploy in an injury-producing crash should be reported to NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation for investigation of possible system defects and potential recall.

What is meant by a "moderate to severe" crash?

Frontal air bags are generally designed to deploy in "moderate to severe" frontal or near-frontal crashes, which are defined as crashes that are equivalent to hitting a solid, fixed barrier at 8 to 14 mph or higher. (This would be equivalent to striking a parked car of similar size at about 16 to 28 mph or higher.)

I just bought a vehicle with advanced front air bags. Does this mean I can start putting my kids in the front seat again?

No. Placing a child in the front seat, no matter what the circ*mstances, comes with increased risk.NHTSA recommends that children under 13 years old ride in the back seat in the appropriate child restraint systems for their age and size: rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, booster seats, or adult seat belts.For information on tweens, see our Seat Belts section.

What should I do when the "pass air bag off" (or "passenger air bag off") indicator light does not give me the expected result?

The proper operation of some advanced frontal air bag systems is highly dependent on the pressure (also known as "loading") placed on the seat bottom by the driver or passenger. Situations that add or subtract sensed weight can result in an occupant misclassification. If the indicator light does not provide the expected result, consult your owner’s manual to find out how to correct the problem.

After an advanced frontal air bag deploys, can it be re-used?

No. Once deployed, an air bag – whether advanced frontal or another type – cannot be re-used and must be replaced by an authorized service technician without delay.

Have advanced air bag systems been tested on child-size dummies?

Yes. All light vehicles (passenger cars and light-duty trucks) must meet specific safety performance criteria for dummies representing 12-month-old infants, 3-year-old toddlers, 6-year-old children, and small-stature women.

For those manufacturers electing to suppress (not deploy) an air bag for an infant or child in all crashes, the occupant-sensing devices in their advanced frontal air bag systems have been tested with child-sized dummies, representing an infant in a child safety seat and small children in and out of child safety seats, to ensure that the air bag will turn itself off.

With advanced frontal air bags, do I still need to maintain 10 inches between the air bag cover and my breastbone?

Yes. To minimize the potential of any air-bag-related injury, NHTSA still recommends keeping a 10-inch minimum between the air bag cover (in the center of the steering wheel for drivers and on the dashboard for the right front passenger), maintaining a proper seating position, and moving the seat as far back as possible (drivers should be able to comfortably reach the pedals).

How are advanced frontal air bags different?

Frontal air bags have come a long way since they first appeared in the 1980s. Although those older air bags saved thousands of lives, they deployed the same way for every driver and passenger, causing injury and in some rare cases even death to children, small adults, and any unbelted occupants positioned too close to the air bag as it deployed. Today's advanced frontal air bags are better able to protect drivers and front seat passengers by using sophisticated sensing systems to determine whether, when and how much to deploy.

Are there fake air bags on the market?

While rare, NHTSA has identified fake air bags in vehicles where an air bag has been replaced, for example after a crash. These fake air bags may have been sold online to consumers or repair shops.If your vehicle is equipped with a counterfeit air bag, there is cause for concern. Counterfeit air bags have been shown to consistently malfunction in ways that range from non-deployment to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.

Air Bags | NHTSA (2024)

FAQs

Air Bags | NHTSA? ›

2. Air bags are not enough to protect you; in fact, the force of an air bag can seriously injure or even kill you if you're not buckled up. 3. Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the strap below your arm, puts you and your children at risk in a crash.

How many airbags are enough? ›

A car with six or eight airbags might protect every part of every occupant just as thoroughly as a car with 10. One long head-protecting side airbag can offer as much coverage for three rows of seats as three separate airbags.

What should air bags never be used without ____________? ›

To avoid an air-bag-related injury, make sure you are properly seated and remember—air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.

How much do airbags really help? ›

Front airbags have been shown to reduce fatalities for both drivers and front-seat passengers by 29% and 32%, respectively, and the effectiveness of airbags is raised significantly when they offer protection for multiple areas of the body, such as with combination head/torso airbags.

How much air do I put in my air bags? ›

You should always keep 5 lbs. of air pressure in your air bags to prevent any damage. 5 lbs. will not affect your ride but will ensure your air bags last. This is where an air compressor kit comes in handy, monitoring and maintain the minimum air bag pressure.

Is 2 airbags safe? ›

I came to think of it because most of the cars on the road only have this safety configuration at that time. These are the cars that don't have stability control, reverse camera, nor ADAS.

Are 6 airbags necessary? ›

Minister for Road Transport Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday said there was no need to make it mandatory for carmakers to install six airbags in cars after the introduction of the new crash test rules.

What is the biggest risk with air bags? ›

Brain injuries: When an airbag deploys, the head and face will get the majority of the impact. This can cause concussions, brain swelling, and bruising, and even the loss of consciousness. Eye injuries: If the face is hit, the eyes are also at risk to receive the impact of an inflating airbag.

How unsafe is no airbag? ›

NHTSA estimates that the combination of an airbag plus a lap and shoulder belt reduces the risk of death in frontal crashes by 61%, compared with a 50% reduction for belts alone and a 34% reduction for airbags alone.

What are the basics of air bags? ›

Air bags inflate when a sensor detects a front end crash. The sensor sends an electric signal to start a chemical reaction that inflates the air bag with harmless nitrogen gas. All this happens faster than the blink of an eye. air bags have bents, so they deflate immediately after cushioning you.

How much do airbags increase safety? ›

The stats are astounding: Frontal airbags have saved over 50,000 lives in the U.S. alone, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They reduce driver deaths by 29 percent in front-end crashes, and fatalities of front-seat passengers 13 and older by 32 percent.

Are air bags worth it? ›

Not only do air bags provide extra stability and improved handling, but they also reduce wear and tear on the suspension system and can help protect your cargo from damage.

How much force does an airbag hit you? ›

When the crash sensor deploys the airbags too late, it can cause serious harm due to the fact that the passengers' heads or bodies are now too close to the airbag when it deploys. This means that someone's body or head is impacted by a 200-mile-per-hour airbag with up to 2,000 pounds of force.

Do air bags leak air? ›

Air struts or airbags are a common area for air leaks both in your front end suspension and rear suspension. The rubber bladder can deteriorate over time if exposed to extreme temperatures and road grime.

Why is my air suspension so bouncy? ›

Excessive bouncing is caused by worn-out shocks. You'll usually notice your car bouncing when driving over bumps or even tiny dips in the road. You can also perform a bounce test to see if your suspension needs to be repaired.

How high can air bags lift? ›

As stated previously, high pressure air bags are rated for their maximum lifting capacity at 1 inch of lift. As the air bag inflates beyond 1 inch, it begins to lose surface contact with the ground and the load. To help alleviate this problem, the air bags must be as close to the load as possible.

What is the 5 10 20 rule for airbags? ›

Utilize the “5,10,20 Rule.” Stay five inches away from side-curtain airbags, 10 inches from the driver's airbag and 20 inches from the passenger airbag.

How many airbags does the average car have? ›

Modern vehicles may contain up to ten airbag modules in various configurations, including driver, passenger, side-curtain, seat-mounted, door-mounted, B and C-pillar mounted side-impact, knee bolster, inflatable seat belt, and pedestrian airbag modules.

Do airbags mean totaled? ›

It all comes down to cost and the value of your vehicle. If your vehicle has deployed airbags and a lot of damage, the overall cost of repairs to get it back on the road may exceed that total loss threshold that we talked about earlier, meaning it's deemed totaled.

How much is it to replace all airbags in a car? ›

In general, replacement airbag average between $1,000 and $2,000, according to Consumer Reports, but after a significant accident, replacement costs could reach $6,000. When comparing prices, beware of counterfeits. These airbags may not deploy when needed or, if they do, they could scatter dangerous debris.

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