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Safety Agency Approves Rule On Air Bag Use

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has approved a rule that would allow vehicle owners to turn off air bags in their cars and trucks without formally petitioning the agency for the right to do so.

But before it can be implemented, the rule must pass muster at the White House Office of Management and Budget, where it has been under review since Oct. 2, Clinton administration and some auto industry officials said Wednesday.

Essentially, the rule would allow any car or truck owner to disable passenger-side air bags through the use of an “on-off” switch. Such devices are being installed in some Ford Motor Co. pickup trucks, including the Ford Ranger. The switches also could be installed by mechanics in existing vehicles, federal and industry sources said Wednesday.

But many automakers and air bag suppliers, as well as a number of auto safety and health care groups, disagree with the approach, arguing that air bags cannot save lives if they are turned off.

A full-page advertisement carrying that message appeared Wednesday in USA Today, placed by a coalition of 13 national automotive and supplier groups opposed to the proposed NHTSA rule. And representatives of those groups made the same point Wednesday in a meeting with OMB executives in a last-ditch effort to block the rule from taking effect.

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