The Department of Transportation says that passenger vehicles will have to be designed to keep occupants, even those not wearing seat belts, from going through the side windows during a rollover accident.

The ruling was formalized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Thursday. "Safety is our highest priority," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "This new standard will help save lives and reduce injuries by requiring vehicles to have a safety system that keeps occupants in the vehicle in a rollover crash."Some SUV's already have rollover-sensing side airbags that instantly deploy when a rollover occurs and remain open for a few seconds to prevent occupants from being thrown through the windows.

Automakers could make rollover-sensing side airbags standard to all vehicles to comply, or they could use advanced safety glass in the windows to prevent ejections, according to NHTSA's report on the new requirement. The new rule will be phased in beginning in 2013 and all new vehicles will be required to have "ejection mitigation" systems by 2018.

"Rollover crashes are the deadliest of all crash types, and this is another important step in our efforts to reduce fatalities and serious injuries that result from them," NHTSA administrator David Strickland said in the announcement. "When fully implemented, we believe this standard will prevent on average 373 fatalities and 476 serious injuries every year."

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