Is It Illegal to Drive With the Airbag Light On?

Imagine driving on a highway when the airbag warning light suddenly appears on your dashboard. It can be hard to know what to do in such a situation – call the mechanic, pull over, or continue driving? Many wonder if it’s even legal to drive with the airbag light on.

It is not illegal to drive with the airbag light on, although it is highly unsafe. An airbag light means there’s an issue with the airbag system that needs to be fixed. This could be terribly dangerous should you get into an accident, as the airbags may not deploy at all.

In the rest of the article, I’ll explain why it’s not illegal to drive with your airbag light on, the importance of an airbag system, and I’ll mention some common reasons why the airbag light might appear on your dashboard. Read on to learn more about why it’s not illegal to drive with an airbag light on.

Why It’s Not Illegal to Drive With Airbag Light On

Just because something isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it’s safe. This is the case with the airbag light. When you see that this small light appears on your dashboard, it means that your airbag or seatbelt system is not working properly.

The warning light indicates that it is unsafe for you to drive in that vehicle because airbags might not activate if there’s an accident. This is generally okay for some, but it can be extremely dangerous if you end up in a car crash and your airbags don’t work.

But, what happens when you need to go through a vehicle inspection when the airbag light is on? Well, generally, you wouldn’t necessarily fail a vehicle inspection in the US because of the airbag light. However, if the light is on because of some other, more serious issue with your vehicle, that could be a good enough reason to not pass the inspection.

This is another indication that driving with the airbag light on is legal. If it were illegal, you wouldn’t be able to perform a vehicle inspection without failing it. It’s best to check a particular US state’s vehicle inspection rules, though, as the rules vary from state to state.

So, if it is extremely unsafe to drive with your airbag light on, why is it not illegal? There are two important reasons why it’s not illegal to drive a vehicle when your airbag light is on:

Your Car Is Still Working

Technically speaking, you can drive around in your car even when your airbag light is on.

The airbag light is an indication of a faulty airbag system, but this doesn’t mean that your entire car is broken down. You can drive around without posing any threat to other drivers. Just like when the low fuel light appears on your dashboard–it might be unwise to drive, but it’s not illegal.

It is unsafe for you to drive your vehicle if the airbag light is on, though. If you end up in a car crash, you might hurt yourself as the airbags won’t work properly to reduce physical harm to your body.

Sometimes, when the airbag light is on, it might be that the issue with your airbag system is not that serious. Some issues with faulty airbag systems are easily fixed. So, it wouldn’t make sense to make it illegal to drive a vehicle with an airbag light on if it’s only a small matter that can be mended at home.

The best option, though, is always to check the system in a repair shop, just to make sure everything’s properly taken care of.

Some Older Cars Don’t Even Have Airbags

In 1998, a law called the “Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act” was passed in the US. By this law, every car that was produced from then on must have airbags built into them.

Because of this law, driving a car is much safer today than it was before 1998. But, this means that many cars that were produced before 1998 simply don’t have airbags. There were some models that used airbags before the 1990s, but many didn’t include them.

So, it really wouldn’t make sense to make driving with airbag lights on illegal when there are still some older cars that don’t even have airbags inside of them.

If you’re driving an older car that doesn’t have an airbag system built into it, it wouldn’t be wise to try and build one now. Older cars don’t have the necessary components for the entire airbag system. Therefore, airbags might not even work in case you ever need them. The best solution is to buy a car produced after the 1990s.

Why We Need Airbag System

The Airbag system or Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) was created to ensure that drivers and passengers are secured and protected if they end up in a car accident.

In the past, vehicles used seat belts for decades before car manufacturers were required to use airbags for extra safety. Today, airbag systems use multiple airbags, such as curtain or torso airbags, to ensure a person survives a serious accident on the road.

And airbags really work! Research into the effectiveness of torso and curtain airbags conducted on dummies showed that head injuries were reduced by 68 +/- 16% with these two types of airbags.

Other studies show that airbags can save lives. As much as 30% of people survive a direct crash thanks to airbags.

If properly set up, airbags can save multiple lives in car crashes. That’s why it’s extremely important that the airbag system is checked by a professional.

What Causes Airbag Systems to Light Up?

The reasons why your airbag signal on the dashboard lights up can range from really trivial issues to more serious problems. The safest way to know what the issue is with your airbag system is to visit a mechanic.

But, there are generally a limited number of issues that are common to every vehicle.

The airbag system will light up if:

  • The airbag was previously already activated and never replaced
  • The sensor is broken or needs resetting
  • The battery died
  • The clock spring inside your steering wheel is damaged
  • There was some damage done to the system, such as water damage
  • The seatbelt sensor is damaged

Although some of these issues are easily fixed and don’t necessarily cost that much, airbag system failure means that serious, even life-threatening, accidents can happen without airbags being activated.

What can also happen is that the airbag light is on, but when you drive your vehicle to a repair shop, everything is completely fine with SRS. This happens a lot with used cars. The reason may be that when people buy a used car that was in a car crash, they replace all the airbags but don’t reset the airbag system.

In that case, a car mechanic needs to reset the system, and the light on the dashboard will disappear.

The Bottom Line

It is legal to drive with the airbag light on, but it’s not completely safe. Although you’re allowed to drive with a faulty airbag system in your vehicle, it is best to do so as rarely as possible and to fix the issue immediately.

There are some insignificant and some more serious issues that cause the airbag system to light up, but each issue can lead to a serious injury or even death. This is because when your airbag light is on, it means that airbags might not activate in case of a car crash.

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