Citing officials involved in the matter, the New York Times (NYT) on Thursday said that US federal government regulators, worried about the dangers posed by sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, may propose new safety standards that would force substantial design and equipment changes in passenger vehicles.

The NYT said that proposals under consideration by a working group at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would require many sport utilities and pickups to be redesigned to make them less likely to plough over the bonnets and door sills of cars in collisions. In addition, a new side-impact test could force manufacturers to equip more vehicles with side curtain airbags or the sausagelike side airbags used by BMW, the newspaper added.

The NYT said that initiative, which would have to survive several levels of review within the Bush administration before taking effect, is likely to be viewed warily by the motor industry as a costly attack on its most profitable products.

According to the New York Times, the NHTSA proposals were disclosed by senior officials who want to see them carried out. The standards being considered by the safety agency would also force some small cars to be redesigned so they stand up better in collisions with larger vehicles. The cost to vehicle makers and consumers of the proposals has not yet been determined, but that will be part of the government's review process, the newspaper said.

According to the New York Times, the proposals are meant to address a central problem with sport utility vehicles and pickups. When such vehicles hit a car from the side, an occupant of the car has 29 times the chance of dying of a person in the sport utility vehicle or truck. When a car hits a light truck from the side, occupants of both vehicles have an even chance of dying.

The newspaper said that new data from the NHTSA further illustrates the problem. For every 100,000 crashes involving a large pickup truck and another vehicle, there are 293 deaths in the other vehicle. For SUVs there are 205 deaths in the other vehicle. By comparison, there are only 104 such deaths in the second vehicle when it is in a collision with a minivan because they are designed more like cars and ride lower to the ground than most SUVs and pickups. The number falls to 77 when a midsize car collides with another vehicle, the NYT said.

According to the New York Times, the proposals are still in an early form. After several review stages within government agencies, they would be made public for comment, the paper said.