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[an error occurred while processing this directive]   Legislative Feature

No Clear National Airbag Policy

Posted 5/11/2005
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.

The lack of a national airbag policy results in state-by-state determination, causing inefficiencies and disharmony.

Recent discussions at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) echoed what has occurred throughout the country among policymakers with regard to airbag issues. State legislatures around the nation saw airbag bill after bill introduced.

The Automotive Service Association (ASA) was included in a Working Group organized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) several years ago to ensure that airbag deactivation regulations were followed. ASA and the National Automobile Dealers Association raised concerns about liability issues when deactivation regulations were placed in the marketplace by NHTSA. Both independent repairers and franchised new car dealers were reluctant to participate in NHTSA's new airbag deactivation program without some clear protections provided to the repair industry.

In a Midwest meeting with insurers of small businesses, the insurance companies expressed their discomfort with repairers, both independents and dealers, including non-deployed airbags in the repair process.

ASA's airbag policy is clear: ASA advises its members and member shops not to install switches or disconnect airbags. ASA is concerned that shops that install switches or deactivate airbags may be subject to higher insurance premiums and may be held liable in the future for injuries that could have been prevented if the airbag was in operation.

ASA discourages the use of salvage airbags. Safety cannot be compromised in this important safety system. While the use of salvage airbags can reduce cost, ASA believes that safety could be severely compromised and that shop owners could be placed at risk for installing salvage airbags. ASA recommends that all shops inquire with their insurance carriers before installing salvage airbags regarding coverage and increases in rates, and get this information in writing.

In ASA's most recent Legislative Objectives that guide ASA efforts at the state and local governance levels, as well as in the U.S. Congress, ASA's board of directors approved policy opposing the use of all used and salvage airbags in automobiles.

Before 2004, most state legislative policy involving airbags was patterned after Pennsylvania Senate Bill 70, which prohibited the use of fake and junk-filled airbags. "Covers only" legislation was seen as the top airbag legislative initiative for most years.

In 2004, Missouri's legislature approved legislation that allowed insurance companies to remove airbag replacement costs from their total loss calculation: "The total cost of repairs to rebuild or reconstruct the vehicle shall not include the cost of repairing, replacing, or reinstalling inflatable safety restraints ..."

This new law allowed additional repairs in the marketplace that would have previously been excluded because repair costs would have exceeded the salvage threshold.

So far this year in state legislative sessions around the country, 13 airbag bills have been introduced. These bills vary considerably in scope but central to most are the limitations for non-deployed airbags. For example, Arizona House Bill 2524 requires notice or disclosure in writing "if any component of the airbag system was previously installed in another vehicle." The legislation also provides that "if an insurance company orders the replacement, the company shall provide the owner or lessee with a copy of acknowledgement."

New York Assembly Bill 1253 requires recycled airbags to conform to "original equipment manufacturers' standards and match the make, model and year of the vehicle."

New York Senate Bill 3134 goes further by prohibiting "the knowing installation, reinstallation, distribution or sale of a previously deployed inflatable restraint system."

One of the greatest voids in the airbag policy debate has to do with technology. Highlighted at the CIC meeting was a discussion of airbag tests. One issue clearly underscored the dilemma of whether to allow the use of non-deployed airbags in the repair. The question had to do with testing the airbag to determine whether it had been submerged or see how much stress was placed on the airbag wiring systems. The lack of information regarding these matters emphasizes the vulnerability of repairers in choosing whether to use non-deployed airbags.

NHTSA developed the nation's airbag policy requiring their use in America's fleet. NHTSA has stepped in on occasion with changes in that policy; i.e., smart airbags, deactivation devices and more.

States and the industry would benefit from NHTSA taking more of a leadership role in non-deployed airbag policy. Similar to other collision issues, airbag policy developed state by state will not serve the motoring public or the repair community well.

Bob Redding [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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