ST. GEORGE – A bill toughening the state’s seat belt laws for a three-year trial period was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert Monday.
House Bill 79, the Safety Belt Law Amendments, creates a three-year pilot program that makes not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can stop drivers for the offense alone. Before HB 79, not using the seat belt was a secondary offense, meaning the officer had to pull a car over for some other reason first.
Under the pilot program, a driver or a passenger 16 years and older who is not wearing a seat belt can be issued a warning on first offense, and a $45 citation on the second offense. The fine can be waived by taking a 30-minute course approved by the Utah Department of Safety.
After the trial period, the pilot program will sunset and seat belt offenses from July 1, 2018, and following may only be brought against anyone 19 or older and only then if they are pulled over for a violation other than failure to wear a seat belt.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who sponsored the bill, and also works as a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant, pushed for the bill’s passage. Perry said he has personally seen the tragic results of auto accidents where seat belts were not used.
“You can talk to any police officer who has been on a traffic accident who can absolutely say that a seat belt minimized an injury or helped saved a life,” St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said.
“We, as a police department, always encourage everybody to buckle up,” Despain said. “Statistics show seat belts save lives.”
Prior to HB 79’s passing, attempts to pass stricter seat belt laws died in the Legislature, as some lawmakers saw it as a potential infringement on personal freedom.
One such bill was the 2013 Senate Bill 114. It sought to make wearing a seat belt on Utah’s highways a primary offense, yet ultimately died in session that year. Bryan Hyde, a radio talk show host and a columnist for St. George News, wrote about SB 114 and his general objection to seat belt laws:
The problem with seat belt laws is that they are a gross misuse of state power …. Making a seat belt violation into a primary offense sidetracks police officers from actual crimes involving real, not imaginary, injured parties. It invites the state into our lives for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting our rights or promoting justice. Given the increasingly intrusive nature of the state, the less contact we have with members of its extractive branch, the better off we are.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Herbert, said the governor signed the bill because seat belts can save lives.
“It’s something we should allow our highway patrolmen to make stops for, and remind people they should be wearing their seat belt,” Carpenter said.
HB 79 was signed along with 55 other bills Monday that are a part of the total 528 pieces of legislation that passed during the 2015 session of the Utah Legislature. Also signed in that batch of bill was House Bill 11, which allows the use of firing squads for executions if drugs for lethal injection cannot be obtained.
To date, Herbert has signed 144 of the 528 bills.
- Firing squad bill signed into law
- Gas tax hike, distracted driving, criminal justice reform; what passed, what didn’t in 2015 Legislature
- Deceased woman identified in no-seat belt fatality on I-15
- Perspectives: Seat belt laws and slippery slopes
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