Honda, in a bid to become a leader in car safety, on Wednesday said it will add several safety features as standard equipment on most of its vehicles sold in the United States by the end of 2006, Reuters reported.

"Currently, our image is very high in safety standards, right up there with Volvo and Mercedes," Dan Bonawitz, vice president of Honda's US operations, told Reuters on a conference call, adding: "We want to make sure we take these steps to stay ahead."

Reuters said all Honda and Acura vehicles will be equipped with side curtain air bags as well as traditional side air bags and anti-lock brakes by the end of 2006, though three low-volume models - the Insight hybrid coupe, and the Acura NSX and Honda S2000 sports cars - will be excluded from the programme.

Honda will also equip light trucks, including sport utility vehicles and minivans, with its vehicle stability assist system to improve handling, and sensors to trigger side curtain air bags if the vehicle is about to roll over, the report added.

In addition, to address growing concerns of deadly crashes between large SUVs and smaller cars, Honda will use a new body structure to better protect vehicle occupants while reducing the risks to other vehicles, Reuters said.

The report said Honda's new advanced compatibility engineering structure, which uses a redesigned front-end structure to disperse energy in a crash over a larger area, will be rolled out on all new vehicle platforms over the next six to seven years with the Honda Odyssey minivan and the Acura RL sedan becoming the first US models with the new technology.

Reuters said that, as part of Honda's concept to offer "safety for everyone," a tagline which may be used in upcoming advertising campaigns, the car maker will add features to future models that reduce injuries to pedestrians in car crashes - Honda already sells eight models, with US sales of two million vehicles, that have pedestrian-friendly features such as breakaway windscreen wiper pivots, deformable bonnet hinges, and energy-absorbing bonnets.

Reuters noted that, unlike Honda, as US car sales have grown more competitive, some car makers have reduced the amount of standard equipment on vehicles to cut costs and compete on price - last year, General Motors decided to make anti-lock brakes and side air bags optional on many models, rather than standard equipment.

According to Reuters, Bonawitz declined to say how much the safety measures will cost but said Honda may have to raise car prices or cut its profit margins to compensate.

"There may need to be price increases to cover some or part of what we do," he reportedly said, adding: "In the long run, we'll sell more cars by providing safety for everyone on the road."

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