Airbag laws, or laws that require cars to be installed with airbags as a standard feature, ensure the safety of the driver and passenger in the event of a car crash. Many cars are also equipped with side airbags, intended to reduce injuries in case of a side impact collision. Consumers who purchase used cars or have their airbags replaced should be aware of an airbag scam in which mechanics replace airbags with random items, such as empty beer cans and trash. In some cases, the airbags are not replaced at all.
Airbags, now a standard feature in new cars, were not always required. In 1997, federal law required that at least 90 percent of all new vehicles for that model year had to be equipped with driver-side airbags. By 1998, all new automobiles had to be equipped with dual airbags as a standard feature. By 1999, the federal law expanded to require all light truck and vans to have airbags.
Beginning in 1991, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began issuing warnings on the dangers of airbags, especially for younger children who could suffocate or be injured during the deployment of an airbag. Starting in 1993, U.S. law required all cars equipped with airbags to have a warning label on the car's front sun visor, as well as in the owner's manual, stating that children in infant safety seats should be placed in the back of the car. By 1997, all new cars had to have a warning label on the sun visor stating that airbags could potentially kill or seriously injure a child under 13 and that all children should ride in the back seat of the automobile.
Since 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required that all new cars meet new airbag installation standards based on crash-test results. The crash tests must use dummies representing young children and small women. By 2010, all new vehicles were required to pass an airbag crash test using a male crash-test dummy traveling at 35 mph. The previous standard was a speed of 30 mph. The purpose of increasing the speed, as well as using different-sized crash-test dummies, is to make sure the airbags protect all body types at any given speed.