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MAKE LIGHT TRUCKS SAFER, TOO

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Each year some 8,000 Americans are killed and another 24,000 are seriously injured in vehicle accidents involving side crashes.

That's why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been phasing in tighter regulations requiring car makers to improve the ability of their products to withstand a side crash involving another car.Consequently, it's only logical to require the manufacturers of light trucks weighing less than 5,000 pounds - a category that includes minivans, pickups and sport utility vehicles - to improve the ability of their products to withstand a side crash involving another light truck.

But this logic seems to be lost on Detroit, which is fighting NHTSA's latest proposal on the grounds that it is unnecessary and would cost too much.

Unnecessary? Some 245 people die in light trucks each year in side-impact crashes and 970 are seriously injured. Too costly? The proposed requirement - usually involving the installation of a beam in vehicle doors - would cost just $50 to $70 per vehicle.

Americans bought 5 million light trucks last year along with 8 million passenger cars. The trend is for light trucks to keep growing in popularity. Since light trucks are being used in place of the family station wagon, they should be required to provide families the same protection as a station wagon.