Air bags are designed to protect people involved in serious frontal crashes, which account for more than half of all vehicle occupant deaths. When deployed, they act as cushioning devices to keep your head, neck, and chest from hitting the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, they've proven to be effective in saving lives. Consequently, federal automobile regulations now require that all new passenger cars have air bags installed on both the driver and passenger side. Side-impact airbags and head-protection devices are usually available as options. When used properly, air bags can offer a second line of defense after seatbelts against serious injury and even death. Remember, air bags only supplement safety belts and are not meant to replace them. It's estimated that the combination of an air bag and a lap and shoulder belt reduces the risk of serious head injury by 81 percent. If you're concerned about air-bag safety, consult your car manual for proper use of this device. Serious injuries and deaths caused by inflating air bags have mainly been the result of people positioned too close to the air bag when it deploys. However, there's a small percentage of people in which the risks of air bags may outweigh the benefits. They include people who can't avoid sitting extremely close to the air bags, people with certain medical conditions, and young children, especially infants and toddlers. If you or your passenger falls into one of these risk groups, repair shops and auto dealers can install 'on-off' switches to allow your air bags to be turned on and off in appropriate circumstances. Dealers and repair shops, however, cannot perform this work without an authorization letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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