The government has opened an investigation into some versions of the Honda Accord because owners have complained about a light on the control panel that illuminates when an air bag has been disarmed or is not working properly.
Honda Motor Co. said the potential problem involves a sensor system in the front passenger seat that detects whether a person is properly seated.
The system was designed to deactivate the passenger side air bag if a child or a person of small stature was leaning against the door or curled up in a position close to the door where they could be injured if the side air bag deployed.
Honda spokesman Andy Boyd said many of the complaints have dealt with drivers who placed a briefcase or laptop computer bag in the passenger seat. Company investigators believe the system detected the bag's size and position and deactivated the air bag, leading to the lamp's illumination.
Boyd said Honda would cooperate with the investigation, but said there was no indication that the potential defect would affect the frontal air bags, the driver's side air bag or the vehicle's safety system.
"We don't believe there's any safety concern," Boyd said. He said the inquiry would involve an estimated 480,000 Accords from the 2000 and 2001 model years.
Boyd said owners who face similar issues could have the lamp reset at a dealership. He said the air bag would automatically be rearmed if a driver saw the light, turned the ignition off and then restarted the vehicle.
Honda said there have been no crashes, injuries or failed air bag deployments associated with the issue.
The government recommends that all children should ride in the back seat of a vehicle until age 13. Some investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lead to vehicle recalls.