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wobert123 said:
Strangely, my wife's Vauxhall Meriva has the similar feature, but it was free, and is automatic, in that there is a load sensor in the front passenger seat, that detects whether an adlut or child is in the seat.

Depending on which it is, determines whether the airbag is deployed or not.
This is also the case for all USA-bound MINIs built after 01/01/2005 (I'm not sure about all of the other countries). The new MINIs now have advanced airbags that automatically switch themselves off if there is not enough weight on the passenger seat. I believe that the weight of the front seat occupant also determines the force at which the airbags deploy as well. You can read more about it here:

http://www.motoringfile.com/2005/01/29/advanced_airbags
 
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