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Valley isn't ready for air bag switch

Turning off an airbag became legal Monday for motorists who have obtained federal authorization, but Rogue Valley auto dealers might not be ready to do the job just yet.

Even if they were approved, right now I wouldn't be able to do anything for them, said John Csaftis, service manager at Town and Country Chevrolet in Ashland.

The hangup is the lack of a factory-approved and factory-authorized procedure for installing an on-off switch or permanently deactivating the airbag, he said. Once that arrives from General Motors, both Town and Country Chevrolet and Airport Chevrolet will be willing to do the work.

A few local car dealers said Monday they hadn't received any calls about deactivating airbags, but many have had inquiries, most coming from older men with petite wives who share a car.

Informational brochures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and applications for authorization to install on-off switches are available at most auto dealerships and independent mechanics. To be approved, car owners must be either unable to sit 10 inches from the steering wheel or have a medical condition that might put them at risk. Those forced to put young children into the front seat because of a large family or carpooling can also apply.

But federal law allows car dealers and mechanics who fear liability to refuse to do the work, and at least one Rogue Valley dealership is saying no.

At this point in time the jury's still out, said Ed Baker, service manager at Crater Lake Motors in Medford. We have the information for customers, but this dealership will not be participating in the retrofit or modification at this point.

Although Skinner Autoplex service manager Dave Shinn said plenty of elderly customers have inquired about turning off the airbags, no decision has been made on whether the dealership will do the job.

We're still kind of checking with our attorneys, he said.