It's only a matter of time until automakers sharply expand installation of head-protecting side-impact airbags, especially in smaller vehicles that could be hit by heavier, higher-riding light trucks.
Car companies ought to make it sooner rather than later.
It's the right thing to do for their customers. There is growing evidence that advanced side airbag designs, such as curtains that deploy from roof rails, boost protection significantly in side crashes and don't create new risks.
It's also the right thing for the companies.
Automakers have been working hard to erase the industry's reputation for making safety improvements only after being forced by government regulation or after bad publicity.
Automakers must not wait for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to show the public more graphic examples of crash dummies that suffer fatal injuries without head-protecting airbags but likely survive horrendous side impacts with the protection.
The institute, research arm of auto insurers, made a solid case on June 17 with the first results of its new side-impact crash test.
A little caution is understandable. Prodded by safety groups and compelled by government, the industry rushed powerful frontal impact airbags into all of their cars and trucks 10 years ago, and then hundreds of people, including many children, were killed or seriously injured by deployments in low-speed crashes.
Today's super-tough competition on prices might make it difficult to boost stickers enough to recover all the costs, but safety sells. And making head-protecting side airbags standard in more vehicles certainly would bring their cost down.
Announcing an aggressive schedule for adding head-protecting airbags to their vehicles might make some consumers choose to wait. But the cost of bad publicity can also be high.
Automakers must do the right thing and get out front on the side-airbag issue.