Feds May OK Disconnecting Air Bags

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: In an apparent concession that air bags can pose more risks than benefits for small adults and children, the government has reportedly reversed policy and will allow motorists to have their air bags disconnected. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within days will rewrite regulations to allow motorists to have their air bags disconnected by dealers and mechanics, according to a report in USA Today. Currently, only car users can disconnect safety devices, but few have the mechanical know-how required. This approach is an alternative to giving motorists a cutoff switch that would allow drivers to turn air bags on and off. Industry officials fear cut off switches, which are only allowed in cars and trucks without back seats, could lead to lawsuits by people who forget to turn them off or back on. Safety advocates have pressured the industry to make changes to air bags, which have been blamed for at least 45 deaths of small women and children. They are advocating air bags that would deploy with varying amounts of force depending on the crash. The auto industry, meanwhile, has proposed reducing the deployment force of all air bags by 20-30 percent, saying it is the quickest way to address air bag deaths and injuries. But not all injuries can be attributed to air bags: "The majority of injuries to children and deaths of children involving airbags are apparently the result of unintended use of seats or restraints, or misplacement of kids," notes TIME's Sally Donnelly. "For example, placing children too small to be using seatbelts alone in the front seat, or kids taking the shoulder belt off and putting it behind their backs." There also was a report Thursday that auto manufacturers and the government knew of the dangers of air bags to children as far back as 1969, but kept the findings private out of fear that it would undermine efforts to win acceptance for the devices.