Ms. Ginny Schafer
1790 Highgrove Dr.
Alpharetta, GA 30201
Dear Ms. Schafer:
This responds to your June 26, 1997, letter asking whether the "slipcover type product" you wish to make must meet Federal flammability standards. Your letter does not describe the product in detail, but presumably it would be used to protect the vehicle seat against wear and tear. You state that the slipcover "will be slipped on over the seat, and it will not interfere with seat belts or children's car seats. (There will be an opening in the fabric to accommodate seat belts.)" The product would be sold to consumers in the aftermarket for installation in their own vehicles.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not, however, approve or certify any vehicles or items of equipment. Instead, Congress has established a "self-certification" process under which each manufacturer is responsible for certifying that its products meet all applicable safety standards. The following represents our opinion based on the information set forth in your letter.
There currently is no Federal motor vehicle safety standard that directly applies to your product. Safety Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials, applies to new, completed vehicles and not to aftermarket items of equipment sold separately from a vehicle, such as a slipcover sold in the aftermarket. Thus, your aftermarket product need not meet Federal flammability requirements.
While no safety standard applies to your product, you should be aware that under 49 U.S.C. 30118-30121, each manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment (such as aftermarket vehicle seat slipcovers) is responsible for ensuring that its product is free of safety-related defects. If you or NHTSA determines that a safety related defect exists, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
In addition, 30122 of our statute prohibits motor vehicle manufacturers, distributors, dealers and repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device or element of
design installed on or in a vehicle in compliance with the Federal safety standards. While it is unlikely that your product would be installed by persons listed in 30122, if a commercial entity does install it, it must ensure that the product does not undermine the vehicle's compliance with the flammability resistance requirements.
The prohibition of 30122 does not apply to individual owners who install equipment in their own vehicles. Thus, individual owners may install any item of motor vehicle equipment regardless of its effect on compliance with Federal motor vehicle safety standards. However, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles.
Because the slipcover is used with child seats and vehicle belts, you should ensure that the product not interfere with the performance of those safety systems. The opening on the slipcover for the belts must not restrict the belt's ability to remain taut or to tighten up in a crash. The slipcover should not have padding that can compress in a crash and introduce slack into the vehicle belt system. Excessive slack can cause the child seat to move too far out of the seating position in a crash, which can result in a greater likelihood the child's head would contact hard surfaces.
State or local jurisdictions might have their own requirements for the slipcover you wish to produce. For information about those requirements, you should contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in any state in which the equipment will be sold or used.
You identified two types of fabric by name and manufacturer and ask if they meet Federal flammability requirements. NHTSA does not test products before their sale, nor can we assure manufacturers that a particular supplier meets the Federal requirements. If you intend that your slipcovers meet flammability resistance requirements, which would be a decision we would encourage, you should contact the manufacturer of the fabric for information on conformance of the product.
If you have any other questions, please contact Deirdre Fujita of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel