updated 12/5/2006 6:49:25 PM ET 2006-12-05T23:49:25

Ford Motor Co. plans to enhance the roof strength of some pickups and sport utility vehicles beyond standards proposed last year by the government, the automaker has told regulators.

James P. Vondale, Ford's director of automotive safety, said in a Nov. 20 letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that enacting the NHTSA proposal would lead to "many future vehicles" having roofs comparable in strength to the Volvo XC90 SUV. That vehicle can withstand 3.5 times its own weight.

NHTSA in August 2005 proposed a new roof strength standard that would require a vehicle's roof to withstand a force equal to 2.5 times the vehicle's weight, increasing it from the current standard of 1.5 times the weight.

A final rule still is being considered and could be released by the government next year. It wouldn't take effect until 2011 at the earliest.

Rollover crashes killed 10,816 people in 2005, according to federal statistics, accounting for about one-third of traffic fatalities. Rollovers comprise only a small fraction of crashes but are extremely deadly, prompting safety groups to push for stronger roof standards to protect motorists.

Critics have said the proposal is insufficient and have urged NHTSA to require a more robust standard of 3.5 times the vehicle's weight. They frequently have cited the Volvo XC90. Volvo Cars of North America is a unit of Ford.

In his letter, Vondale listed 11 vehicles that were scheduled to have roofs considerably stronger than the 2.5 times proposal. They included three versions of the F-150 and F-250 pickup trucks; SUVs such as the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer; and the Ford E-Series Van.

Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis said the automaker works to protect people in rollovers through a "systems approach" that focuses on stronger roofs and advanced restraint systems to prevent ejections and keep motorists seated.

Ford has faced several multimillion-dollar verdicts in rollover lawsuits in recent years. In one of the cases, a California appeals court ruled earlier this year that a woman who was paralyzed in a rollover involving her Ford Explorer should receive $82.6 million in damages.

Jarvis said the letter had "nothing to do with litigation" and was intended to tell NHTSA how the company would comply with the proposal.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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