Tesla Motors won a waiver for its all-electric Roadster on Monday from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulators. NHTSA recognized that Tesla might be forced to cancel all pending projects and go out of business, if the California electric vehicle company was required to meet federal air bag standards. Tesla’s $43 million operating losses from 2002 to 2006 were a major consideration in the decision. The reprieve allows Tesla to build the Roadster without advanced, occupant-sensing airbags for the first three years of production, but the car will still be equipped with lower-cost standard dual-front airbags. Tesla has said it plans to produce 625 Roadsters this year, and another 1,600 annually for 2009 and 2010. The waiver will cover an estimated 3,825 vehicles.

The all-electric Roadster is powered by lithium-ion batteries that are expected to carry the vehicle approximately 200 miles on a single charge. Based on the two-seater Lotus Elise sports car, the Tesla Roadster is the poster-child for a new sportier generation of green motoring. “The Tesla Roadster is one of the most advanced fully electric vehicles available,” NHTSA said in its decision. “We believe that the public interest is served by encouraging the development of fuel-efficient and alternative-fueled vehicles.”

Breathing easier from the decision, Tesla can now head more confidently toward its March 17 target date for the start of production. The Tesla Roadster sells for $98,000.