When Did Airbags Become Mandatory? (US, UK, AUS + More)

Airbags are a lifesaver, so it makes sense that they would be required by law to be standard in all new vehicles.

Therefore, you may wonder if and when airbags became mandatory for vehicles. If you’d like to find out, keep reading!

When Did Airbags Become Mandatory?

Unlike seat belts, airbags aren’t actually mandatory in a lot of places, because manufacturers adopted them on their own so there was no need for the law to compel them to do so. As soon as the design was refined so it worked as intended, most vehicle manufacturers integrated it willingly because they understood its importance.

Read on to learn about airbag mandates in other countries and find out the answers to legal questions you have about them, including if you can buy or drive a car without airbags!

When Did Airbags Become Mandatory In The U.S.?

In the U.S., airbags became mandatory on September 01, 1998, when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 went into effect.

This act implemented this move in several different waves, starting with requiring vehicles bought by the federal government to have airbags.

It also required manufacturers to include owner’s manuals that talked about the benefits of having seat belts to complement the airbags.

In 2009, a new law was introduced that required all vehicles to have side protection, which is provided by options such as side airbags.

Are Airbags Mandatory In The UK?

Are Airbags Mandatory In The UK?

In the UK, there is no law requiring cars to have airbags, but the government encourages every vehicle owner to ensure they have them installed just in case.

Are Airbags Mandatory In Canada?

Like in the UK, there’s no legal requirement for airbags in vehicles driven in Canada.

Are Airbags Mandatory In Australia?

Australia has no law requiring airbags in their vehicles, but they have mandates for seat belts and electronic stability control (ESC), the latter of which has been mandatory in all passenger cars since 2013.

When Did Airbags Become Mandatory In New Zealand?

Under New Zealand’s Land Transport Rule: Frontal Impact 2001, all vehicles must have at least one airbag equipped.

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This law also prohibits one from tampering with the airbag system, including its operating system and warning lights.

It also prohibits you from having a light, sign or other mode of indication that the vehicle has an airbag system when it doesn’t, or indicates that it works when it doesn’t.

If the airbag system becomes unusable, the owner must remove any devices and systems that would lead one to believe otherwise.

As well, they should find a way to display a prominent message stating that the airbag system doesn’t work as intended.

When Did Airbags Become Mandatory In India?

In India, airbags on the driver’s side were mandatory following a directive that came into effect in July 2019.

A new directive was issued that required all vehicles manufactured from April 2021 to have airbags for both the driver and the front passenger.

This new directive, however, has run into some problems due to world events in 2020/2021, so the Indian government issued an extension on the mandate.

As of now, the mandate will go into effect on December 31, 2021.

Are Airbags Mandatory In Japan?

Airbags are not currently mandatory in Japan.

When Did Airbags Become Mandatory For Trucks?

In the U.S., the 1998 law that made airbags into a legal requirement also mandated them on light trucks.

Today, airbags are mandatory on all vehicles manufactured in the U.S., including passenger cars, vans and trucks.

Are Airbags Mandatory In Europe?

Airbags are still not mandatory within the European Union, but vehicle manufacturers are aware of their benefits so they install them at their own will.

Can You Buy A Car Without Airbags?

Can You Buy A Car Without Airbags?

Generally, there is no law that prevents you from buying a car without airbags, but there are some circumstances where the legality of this could be challenged in court.

For example, it’s illegal for whoever sold the vehicle to you to tamper with the airbags (which is discussed below).

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If you purchased the car from a dealership and it’s a fairly new model, there’s an expectation that it would come with airbags, so if it doesn’t, you could take the dealer to court and seek damages.

This, however, is largely for federal law and it might differ depending on where you are.

For example, New York just made it illegal to sell used cars without working airbags. Dealers are now required to provide paperwork to prove that the airbags and their corresponding indicator lights are working.

Are Airbags Mandatory For Old Cars?

In the U.S., the airbag mandate was originally tabled in 1991 before it went into effect in 1998.

As stated in the first section, it suggested gradual implementation on a rolling basis that was to end with every car manufactured after September 1, 1998 to have airbags as standard.

This means that if you’re saying “old” to mean a vehicle from the 90s, then it was probably mandatory at the time of manufacture.

However, if you’re saying “old” to mean a vehicle like a classic rod, then it wasn’t mandatory for them to have airbags at the time of manufacture.

Some manufacturers like Chrysler had taken steps to make airbags standard on their vehicles before the mandate so you might get one with them installed.

Why Are Airbags Mandatory?

Countries that mandate airbags in vehicles do so because they’ve been proven effective at saving lives in car accidents.

In the U.S., for example, the NHTSA states that between 1987 and 2017, airbags saved the lives of 50,457 people.

Congress’ decision to make airbags mandatory by law could have been influenced by the skepticism that began going around the 1970s and 1980s.

Major manufacturers like GM and Ford stopped including airbags in their cars and actually began lobbying against them, and a mandate was an effective way of discouraging them from this.

In most other countries that manufacture vehicles like Japan or EU member states, mandates arguably weren’t necessary because they embraced the technology.

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Can You Drive A Car Without Airbags?

There is no explicit law that states you can’t drive a car without an airbag, but the law says that you can’t tamper with airbags after they’ve been installed (as we’ll discuss below).

Is It Illegal To Disable Airbags?

Is It Illegal To Disable Airbags?

By federal law, you’re not allowed to tamper with airbags in a vehicle by either modifying or removing them.

Although it’s illegal to disable airbags, there are some instances where you can do so if you absolutely have to. You would have to get authorization from the NHTSA and use that to have a mechanic do it for you.

You could be allowed to turn off the airbag system if you have a child under 13 that needs to ride in the front because of a medical condition where you have to monitor them constantly.

You could also disable it if you have a rear-facing infant car seat that can’t fit in the back or if you don’t have a rear seat (i.e in a coupe).

If you’re riding with someone that has a medical condition where they would be safer if the airbag was disabled, you could get a doctor’s note and make your request to the NHTSA.

As well, if you have a smaller than average stature and you need to sit closer to the bag, you can have it disabled because it would be dangerous if it deployed too close to you.

To learn more about airbags, you can also see our posts on how long do airbags last, airbags statistics & trends, and how much does it cost to replace airbags.

Conclusion

Airbags aren’t mandatory in several countries because manufacturers have been very open to them since they were proven effective.

In 1998, the U.S. became the first country to mandate airbags, but the practice has not caught on except in a few other countries like New Zealand and India.

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