Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
PHMSA was recently advised by NHTSA that consumers and repair professionals may face a potential safety risk involving the sale of counterfeit air bags for use as replacement parts. Some of these devices look nearly identical to legitimate products, including the branding of certain major automakers. While NHTSA is not aware of any fatalities or injuries that have resulted from counterfeit equipment, their testing has shown malfunctioning ranging from non-deployment of the air bag to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment. NHTSA estimates this problem affects a minute percent of vehicles in the U.S. vehicle fleet. NHTSA described the risk in a press release as “only vehicles which have had an air bag replaced within the past three years by a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership may be at risk.” NHTSA's press release is available at the following URL:
Many air bags incorporate a pyrotechnic device, known as an initiator or electric match, consisting of an electrical conductor cocooned in combustible material. A current pulse heats up the conductor, which in turn ignites the combustible material and the reaction causes gases that fill the air bag. Air bags that deploy a pyrotechnic device meet the definition of an explosive for which PHMSA has regulatory authority. These air bags must be approved by PHMSA before the air bag is authorized for transportation in commerce. An air bag without an approval, including a counterfeit air bag, is considered a forbidden explosive as specified in § 173.54(a) of the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR parts 171-180) and may not be offered for transportation or transported in commerce.
The classification and packing group requirements contained in the HMR provide for the safe transportation of properly manufactured and approved air bag products. In addition to classification by the shipper, each air bag is required to acquire approval by the Associate Administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety (§ 173.166(b)). This approval is a mechanism of ensuring that these products, which contain pyrotechnic initiators, meet the appropriate safety standards.
An approved airbag may be shipped under the description “UN3268, Air bag inflators,
PHMSA recognizes the increased transportation hazards presented by the shipping of suspected counterfeit devices and potentially unapproved explosives. Suspected counterfeit air bags are subject to approval by the Associate Administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety as explosive devices, using the classification criteria in § 173.56. In accordance with § 173.54(a) a forbidden explosive is an explosive that has not been approved as specified in § 173.56. Therefore, per § 173.21(b), the offering for transportation or transportation of an unapproved explosive is forbidden by the HMR.
Information regarding training as well as guidance documents regarding the requirements of the HMR can be found on PHMSA's Hazardous Materials Safety Web site at
PHMSA and NHTSA are continuing to work with our partners at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center to identify and target potential manufacturers and importers of these unapproved devices in order to prevent the entry of unsafe products into the U.S. PHMSA continues to work with the regulated community to assess and monitor concerns related to the reverse logistics of these devices. In an effort to further the investigation on the sale of counterfeit air bags, if a shipper or carrier believes they are in possession of an unapproved device, please contact the Hazardous Materials Information Center at 1-800-467-4922 (in Washington, DC, call 202-366-4488).