Although airbags have been around for more than 20 years, installation rates in North American vehicles will continue to grow, as auto makers strive to pack more safety systems into vehicle interiors.

Driving the movement will be an increase in government safety regulations, the growing interest in vehicle safety by consumers and the continued advancement of airbag technology, says Theresa Marcantonio, North American component analyst for market forecasting firm CSM Worldwide. Because driver and passenger frontal impact airbags have been mandatory in new vehicles for a number of years, most of the growth will come from the increased fitment of side, curtain and various alternative types of airbags.

Some 34% of '05 model cars and 20% of '05 light trucks built in North America were equipped with side-impact airbags, Ward's data shows. Those figures drop to 25% and 15%, respectively, for side curtain airbags.

By the end of the decade, nearly all new vehicles in North America will be equipped with side impact and side curtain airbags, Marcantonio predicts, with overall airbag installations increasing 63% by 2012.

Successfully integrating more airbags in new cars and trucks will be accomplished by the continued push to decrease the size of the systems, along with their fitment into alternative locations, says David Zecchin, airbag engineering director for Autoliv Inc.

Exemplifying the shrinking of airbag systems over the years is one of the first systems Autoliv designed for General Motors Corp., Zecchin says. The steering-wheel-mounted unit weighed about 8 lbs. (3.6 kg), compared with one of the company's modern units that weighs only 3 lbs. (1.4 kg).