Many of us recall driving cars long before the advent of the airbag, and can remember how much of a breakthrough in car safety it was when they first started appearing. Technology was not to replace tradition, however, but to complement it: there was no getting around the necessity of seat belts. In fact, seat belts were still an absolute must because there were several instances in which a seat belt could offer protection when an air bag could not. For example, in collisions occurring at very low speeds, airbags would not be activated. Also, until recently, there were no side mounted airbags, so side sweeping also presented a situation in which the seat belt proved to be more useful than the air bag. Side-impact airbags are only just starting to appear on the car-safety scene now, but even so, they are most effective when used with seat belts, not instead of them.
Additionally, for all of the good that airbags do for us in the event of a collision, they can, in and of themselves, be safety hazards when not handled properly. At the dawn of the airbag era, it was quickly being discovered that the force with which airbags are deployed was strong enough to injure a passenger that was situated too closely to it. This means that you need to make consideration of the distance you leave between yourself and the source of your airbags in order to minimize the risk of injury associated with airbag inflation. The ideal distance to keep between yourself and your steerling wheel is roughly 25 cm. This may prove difficult for shorter drivers. If this is the case, you can adjust your position in several other ways. One way is to give yourself more height. Newer vehicles allow you to achieve this with 8-direction seat adjustability. If your car lacks this feature, not to worry: a cushion will certainly suffice. Another way to put distance between yourself and your airbag, without losing leg-to-pedal reach, would simply be to recline your seat. This will move your chest back, while keeping your legs where they are comfortable.
Airbag safety is quite different when it comes to children, however. In fact, there have actually been instances in which airbags have caused fatalities with young children who were not wearing seat belts. The best way to protect your child from this is simply to ensure that they occupy one of the back seats, and that they are in an age and weight appropriate car seat or booster seat. If there is no way around having the child sit in the passenger seat at the front of the car, then this seat should be moved back as far as it will go. This is less than ideal, however, and should never even be considered with infants and toddlers.
Airbags certainly contribute to the evolution of car safety. That said, they only work effectively when we use them properly. Take the time to learn your specific car's placement and operation of airbags, and to adjust every driver's and rider's seat accordingly.