World automakers agree on safety design changes

December 05, 2003|By R. Alonso-Zaldivar | R. Alonso-Zaldivar,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The world's major automakers announced yesterday a voluntary program of design changes intended to reduce deaths and injuries among people in cars hit from the side or head-on by larger sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

While praising the industry's commitment, federal safety officials said the government intends to go ahead with a mandatory measure that would improve protection in side crashes, the most dangerous type of collision between SUVs and cars.

Automakers "not only tackled this complex problem, but did it in a very timely fashion," said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"They certainly should feel a sense of accomplishment for bringing together disparate factions and agreeing on a plan."

Fifteen companies - from General Motors to Korea's Kia Motors - agreed to a common set of industry standards. Design changes would be made in all types of vehicles.

"This is the first time in history that you had global automakers working on safety at this level," said Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry's lobbying arm in Washington.

For better protection in front-to-side crashes, automakers will phase in side air bags that shield the head and torso. Side impact safety would be upgraded for all types of vehicles, not only cars.

To reduce risks in head-on crashes, manufacturers will lower SUV bumpers or add a barrier to prevent them from riding over cars.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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