The National Highway Safety Admin. wants tougher side-impact standards and mandatory head protection to be included on all passenger vehicles for the first time as early as 2009.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation's key auto safety agency is proposing to enhance Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 214 by forcing auto makers to provide head protection in side crashes and enhance thorax and pelvis protection, according to a statement released by the agency.

In addition, NHTSA wants the use of dummies the size of a 4-ft., 11-in. (149-cm) female and an average-height male in side-crash simulation, in order to better understand the safety needs of a wider population.

The proposed rule could become a standard as early as 2005, with full phase-in of the standard four years after the ruling.

NHTSA claims tougher regulations will save an estimated 700 to 1,000 lives per year and cut down on serious head injuries. The standards would enhance the current performance test requirements by introducing a new, 20-mph (32-km/h) pole test, which simulates an accident in which a car hits a telephone pole or tree.

Side impacts are the third-leading type of crash causing fatality, following front impacts and rollovers, according to NHTSA.