Moriden America, Inc.
915 Western Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46241
Dear Ms. Clock:
This responds to your inquiry about testing procedures in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials. In particular, you asked whether certain materials, which you list as flat woven, double raschel, tricot, and moquette, should be tested by using support wires. The short answer is that during NHTSA compliance testing, support wires may be used in testing any specimen that "softens or bends at the flaming end so as to cause erratic burning." However, the agency cannot specify, outside of the context of a compliance test, whether a given type of material falls in this category.
By way of background information, NHTSA is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not, however, approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. Instead, the Safety Act establishes a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards.
You ask about Standard No. 302, which specifies requirements for the flammability resistance of materials in the occupant compartment of new vehicles. Along with specified performance requirements, Standard No. 302 sets forth conditions and procedures under which NHTSA tests materials for compliance with the standard. Section S5.1.3 of the standard states, in relevant part, that
The test specimen is inserted between two matching U-shaped frames of metal stock 1-inch wide and 3/8 of an inch high. The interior dimensions of the U-shaped frames are 2 inches wide by 13 inches long. A specimen that softens and bends at the flaming end so as to cause erratic burning is kept horizontal by supports consisting of thin, heat resistant wires, spanning the width of the U-shaped frame under the specimen at 1-inch intervals. A device that may be used for supporting this type of material is an additional U-shaped frame, wider than the U-shaped frame containing the specimen, spanned by 1--mil wires of heat resistant composition at 1-inch intervals, inserted over the bottom U-shaped frame.
You ask whether certain specific types of materials could be tested using the supplemental wire described in S5.1.3. The agency uses supplemental wires when there is a reasonable expectation
that a test specimen will soften and bend while burning. The agency bases its determination about the likelihood of softening and bending on observations made in previously-conducted compliance tests of the specimen, or on the agency's knowledge of or testing experience with components that are highly similar to a test specimen. However, since a decision to use wires is made only in the context of compliance testing, we regret that we cannot tell you at this time whether support wires will be used to test the materials you listed.
Vehicle manufacturers are not required by Standard No. 302 to test the flammability of their vehicles in the manner specified in the standard. The standard only sets the procedure that the agency will use in its compliance testing. Thus, a vehicle manufacturer is not required to use wires only with specimens that are anticipated to soften or bend. However, vehicle manufacturers must exercise due care in certifying that their product will meet Standard No. 302's requirements when tested by NHTSA according to the specified procedures of the standard. Whether a vehicle manufacturer has met that due care standard when using support wires in situations other than those described in Standard No. 302 is a matter that can be determined only in the context of an enforcement proceeding.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Marvin Shaw at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel