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Dealerships Hesitant to Install Air Bag Switches

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DURHAM — Air bags save lives every year. But they aren't safe for everyone. In fact, 3,000 people have been given permission to install switches to turn their air bags off. The trouble is, they can't get the switch. Many dealers and repair shops won't install them because of liability concerns.

Some car owners have the right to have the air bag switches installed in their cars. But the dealerships also have the right to refuse to install them. That has some car owners concerned about the safety of some of their passengers.

Richard Baker wants an air bag switch in his car, so he can turn it off when his kids are riding with him. Baker got written authorization from the Highway Transportation Safety Board to have the switch installed, but no dealership would install the switch.

Suzann Baker is angry because he feels like he's done the right thing by wanting to protect his children. However, the dealerships won't do what she considers to be right.

Sales Manager Dave Butler says the Nissan dealership he works for avoids installing the switch. That's because there are potential problems with it.

Even if the customer signs a waiver of liability, the car could be sold at a later date to someone who didn't sign a waver. That leaves dealerships open to lawsuits.

Some new vehicles like the Nissan Frontier come equipped with cutoff switches. But that does Richard Baker no good. He wants a similar switch in his '96 Ford.

"We are being stymied now because of fear," Baker says, "not that anything has happened, but fear an attorney might show up with a paper in his hand. That's absurd!"

The Bakers have contacted the national dealership as well as local dealerships about getting the switch installed, with no luck. They say there's nothing else they can do.