The auto industry agreed on Dec. 3 to make design changes to sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks sold in the United States so they are less dangerous to the occupants of passenger cars, according to the New York Times. While the industry has for years disputed critics' contentions that the increasing prevalence of SUVs posed a serious danger to other vehicles in collisions, according to the Times, 15 automakers from four nations agreed to redesign their light trucks, specifically SUVs and pickups, to reduce the likelihood that they would skip over the front bumpers of cars in collisions. They also agreed to increase protection of passengers in vehicles struck in the side, most likely by making side air bags that protect heads standard equipment in vehicles sold in the United States, the Times reported. The changes are particularly aimed at helping people in cars survive when struck by light trucks, according to the Times. The changes, which are expected to cost at least $300 a vehicle and be phased in from 2007 through 2009, could save thousands of lives annually, according to projections included in a letter released Dec. 3 and signed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Those groups coordinated the voluntary effort to develop the standards. Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), called the agreement a "huge" step for automakers. "They acknowledged that the responsibility is partially theirs to address compatibility," Dr. Runge said, according to the Times "We haven't always heard that. But I really want to give them a lot of positive strokes for the hard work that they did," he said. "I'm sure not every company was as on board as others. It took an extraordinary amount of coordination."