Policy Action

Parents need car seats to keep babies and children safe while driving. In fact, the law requires them. A child may spend hours each week in a car seat. Unfortunately, 83% of car seats recently tested by the Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff program contained toxic flame retardants, as verified by a new peer-reviewed paper published in Environmental Science & Technology.

As a result of outdated federal regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nearly all children’s car seats are treated with hazardous flame retardants. Ecology Center initiated a petition to change these standards that expose young children to toxic chemicals when they are at their most vulnerable stages of development. Your signature can help.  

Go to Change.org and sign the petition.

Background on flammability standards

Children’s car seats are unique among children’s products in that they are required to meet flammability standards for automobile interiors, not children’s products. As a result, nearly all children’s car seat fabrics and foam are treated with hazardous flame retardants. 

Children’s car seat safety is regulated by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213 which specifies many safety requirements for child restraint systems (CRSs) used in motor vehicles and was first introduced by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1971. In 1981, FMVSS 213 was modified to require that child restraints had to meet the flammability requirements of FMVSS 302. This is a performance-based open flame flammability standard which regulates automotive interior materials. The FMVSS 302 standards, originally became law in 1972, and did not apply to child restraint systems in their original form. Automakers and the car seat industry often, but not always, meet these standards by using chemical flame retardants.

The Ecology Center, car seat manufacturers, and others have requested from NHTSA any data showing a meaningful safety benefit from requiring compliance with FMVSS 302. NHTSA has not been able to show a benefit. However, NHTSA is in the process of potentially modifying both FMVSS 213 and 302. A two-year review of FMVSS 302 was started in 2017, with a final report due in mid-2019. For several years NHTSA has been developing recommendations for possible changes and modifications to FMVSS 213, which would be made in June 2019. The Ecology Center has been benchmarking children’s car seats for over a decade and the industry has been making slow, but steady progress towards eliminating flame retardants from children’s car seats. Three seats in the 2018 study did not use chemical flame retardants and passed flammability tests. 

The Ecology Center is calling on NHTSA to either exempt children’s car seat flammability standards or apply a flammability standard appropriate for children’s products. 


JPMA Supports Call to Update Federal Flammability Requirements for Car Seats

Today, the Ecology Center published a research report on flame retardant chemicals used in car seats, including a “Call to Action” on U.S. regulators.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) supports the call for federal regulations that specifically address requirements for car seats, in place of current rules that were developed for vehicle interior components rather than juvenile products.

JPMA applauds the Ecology Center and its partners in asking for appropriate updates to the current federal regulations to allow for exemption or a more appropriate standard for juvenile products, rather than component flammability standards. These updates will keep car seats affordable and available in all states and at the same time will reduce or eliminate chemical flame retardants from car seat requirements.

“Today’s car seats are safe, and play a critical role in protecting children from a leading cause of injury and death,” said Kelly Mariotti, JPMA Executive Director. “But to ensure all families continue to have access to these life-saving devices, we need revised federal flammability standards.”


Letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

December 3, 2018

Heidi King
Deputy Administrator
U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Deputy Administrator King,

On behalf of the undersigned 19 organizations, which represent a broad coalition of public health groups, I am writing to urge you to make changes to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations governing car seat flammability. To meet current regulations, car seats are either treated with flame retardant chemicals or made less affordable by using more expensive seat designs and materials that are naturally flame retardant.  In addition, several states have implemented or are considering laws banning flame retardants altogether for certain children’s products.  However, under current federal law, children’s car seats will still have to comply with the flammability standards meant to apply to vehicle interiors, not children’s products.

We are seeking to avoid the use of added flame retardants that may be carcinogens, hormone disruptors or developmental toxicants, depending on the concentration of the chemical used and whether human exposure has occurred through contaminated air and dust. The groups are proposing changes which would allow manufacturers to produce more affordable car seats without the use of added chemical flame retardants.

The coalition is calling for one of the following options for appropriate Government action:

  • Exempt children's car seats completely from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 302 flame retardancy requirements;
  • Allow alternate test methods for car seats that are more appropriate for children’s products, rather than for vehicle interiors (amend FMVSS 213)

We urge NHTSA to take immediate action to commence rulemaking that would improve the health and safety of children’s car seats by eliminating the need for additive chemical flame retardants.

Jeff Gearhart
Ecology Center
339 E. Liberty, Suite 300
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
[email protected]

Organizational Co-signers
Alaska Community Action on Toxics
Breast Cancer Prevention Partners
Center for Environmental Health
Children's Environmental Health Network
Clean and Healthy New York 
Clean Production Action
Coalition for a Safe and Healthy CT 
CT Clean Water Action 
Coming Clean
Environmental Health Strategy Center
Made Safe
NC Child
NC Conservation Network
Safer States
Sierra Club
Toxic Free Future
Toxic Free NC