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Disabling Airbags

Recently, the Risk Management Department has become aware of a concerning new trend for smaller emergency response vehicles. These vehicles’ passenger-side airbags are being disabled due to the presence of equipment such as tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices used to communicate significant, time sensitive dispatch information to responders. At this point research has found a very narrow allowance for vehicle owners to shut off the airbags on a vehicle ( These allowances are specific to physical characteristics of the person sitting in front of the airbag. This change must be requested from NHTSA for approval.  

  • Neither Oregon OSHA nor Oregon Revised Statutes specifically require airbags on vehicles. Both require seatbelts only because not all vehicles covered by the standards have airbags. However, when there is a safety device, Oregon OSHA may rule that the device must be used and not disabled. OAR 437-001-0760 speaks to this.  

Since airbags are considered supplemental to a seatbelt, there can be circumstances where disabling the airbag may be necessary; this situation is a discussion about the “greater hazard.” Our research indicates the practice of disabling the passenger-side airbag is common for law enforcement vehicles. However, our risk management department has not been able to determine whether this practice is authorized beyond end-user shops. It appears that this decision stems from the argument that launching a laptop during an accident is more hazardous than a lack of supplemental restraint of an airbag.  

If the district decides that the hazards of airbag deployment outweigh the benefits, we recommend establishing a process for assessing this greater hazard. Staff should present this process to the district board for public discussion and obtain their decision to allow the district staff to follow the process. Since there is no legal precedent that SDAO’s attorneys can find, this process may still have legal consequences in the event of a severe injury or fatality resulting from the lack of an airbag.  

For assistance with this or other issues please contact the SDAO Risk Management Department at