WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal regulators plan to take a major step toward protecting passengers in side-impact crashes, responsible for 10,000 deaths each year on the nation’s highways, reported the Associated Press. For the first time since 1990, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to propose a new set of safety standards that vehicles will have to meet in side-impact crashes. The rules are expected to result in the installation of side air bags in all vehicles, since vehicles won’t be able to meet the standards without them. For the first time, the rules will require vehicles to protect occupants’ heads as well as their torsos. The change is important, since car occupants are at significant risk of head injury when struck by sport/utility vehicles and other trucks with higher bumpers. In side-impact crashes between cars and light trucks, the occupants of the car are 20 times more likely to be killed, NHTSA says. Once the rules are proposed, automakers, safety groups, and others will be allowed to comment before NHTSA issues a final rule. It could take four years before the rule results in concrete design changes, which will cost manufacturers millions of dollars. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington trade group that represents 10 automakers, hopes NHTSA takes into account an agreement manufacturers made last December to improve side-impact safety. Under the voluntary agreement, automakers pledged to add side airbags and improve door beams and side bumpers by 2009. They also will consider ways to redesign trucks so that their bumpers are better aligned with cars.