When you brought the baby’s new car seat home, did you read the instructions? Twenty percent of drivers transporting young children did not, according to a recent survey. It’s often a life-and-death decision, as car crashes are the leading killer of children from infancy to 12 years of age. When not installed correctly, a car seat may become a death trap for your precious package.

car seat mistakesAll 50 states have laws requiring children under three years of age be buckled into an approved safety seat. Yet, here’s the rub: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost three out of four car seats have not been installed correctly.

The most common mistakes: Not tightening the seat straps, failing to adhere to the manufacturer’s safety instructions, and using the seat belt incorrectly. What’s more, 20 percent of all drivers transporting child passengers admitted that they did not read the instructions for properly installing their child seat. Child safety seats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infant passengers and 54 percent for toddlers from one to four years old, but the seat must be installed correctly to offer the maximum protection.

Here are some of the most common mistakes caregivers make when installing car seats.

1. Not matching the seat to the child’s weight or age. Make sure you check the label on the car seat to make sure it is appropriate to your child’s age, weight and height. Also, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, to check for recalls and view safety ratings for safety restraints.

2. Incorrectly installing a child restraint. The best way to know if your child safety seat has been properly installed is to shake the seat and see if you can move it more than one inch from side to side, or front to back. If there’s too much play, tighten the straps.

3. Prematurely turning the seat to the forward-facing position. In general, car seats should be in the rear-facing position, until the child is at least a year old, or has reached a weight of between 20 and 30 pounds. Once a child exceeds the maximum weight listed for a car seat, replace it with a booster seat. Children grow very quickly, so stay on top of it.

4. Incorrectly using the safety-seat straps. Simple mistakes can prove deadly. Slipping a seat belt through the wrong harness slot, improper seat belt placement, not ensuring the harness clip is even with the baby’s shoulders or armpits — any one of these can prove fatal to your baby, in the event of a crash.

5. Read the instructions. If it is a used seat, you can find the directions online. If you are having difficulty installing the seat, your local police will inspect a used seat and assist you in understanding how to buckle up your child’s safety seat properly. Lastly, check out this video from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which gives clear instructions on how to protect your precious cargo in a crash. Drive safely!