Janet Garman is afraid to drive a car with air bags.

The loud bang of an air bag during a 1992 accident left her ears extremely sensitive to noise, she says. So she took matters into her own hands and disconnected the air bags on her new car.But Garman forgot to tell her insurer, which was giving her a $24-a-year discount because the car was equipped with air bags.

"If they want to charge me that, that's fine. But it galls me," said the Barrington, Ill., woman.

Eric Stork, 70, of Arlington, Va., said he was concerned about his wife's safety, not auto insurance premiums, when he had both air bags disconnected on a new car.

"I would disconnect the air bags on any car, that's the first thing I would do," said Stork, an auto emissions consultant. The elderly don't "have the physical strength of younger people . . . when an air bag hits them at 200 miles per hour."

The auto insurance industry has long promoted air bags by offering discounts. But now a public backlash against air bags, coupled with a Clinton administration proposal to make it easier for drivers to disconnect air bags, could lead insurers to rethink those discounts.

Air bags were once touted as a risk-free feature that could spare the lives of thousands of Americans in head-on collisions. But now they are a source of worry for many, especially parents of young children.

But by the end of this year, air bags will be mandatory in all new cars. They are credited with saving more than 1,800 lives, but they also are blamed for the deaths of 38 children and 24 adults, often in low-speed accidents they should have survived.

Just last month, the government gave automakers the go-ahead to install less powerful air bags in new cars.