Motorists Who Turn Off Air Bags Risk Losing Car Insurance Discount

THURSDAY, JAN. 15, 1998

If you turn off your car’s air bag, you might not want to tell your auto insurer.

If you do, it could cost you your air bag discount, which saves consumers from $15 to $100 a year, depending on the state.

Insurers say that only motorists who permanently disable an air bag or install a cut-off switch and turn off the air bag all the time will lose the discount.

For now, insurers can’t tell if an air bag has been turned off unless the owner volunteers the information. But because insurers don’t entirely trust their customers to be honest with them, a group representing 560 U.S.-based insurance companies wants the federal government to let them know when car owners apply for a switch or disable an air bag. The government does not plan to make this information public.

If the government won’t agree and if the use of switches becomes widespread, the group warns that insurers may be forced to eliminate the air bag discount for everybody.

“It might be easier for companies to fold up the air bag incentive program, rather than try to guess who isn’t using their air bag,” said Terry Tyrpin, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Insurers.

Right now, very few are turning them off. Under a final rule issued in November by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Jan. 19 is the first day when air bag switches can be installed in pre-1998 models. But first, consumers must get written permission from the NHTSA.

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