Monday, April 27, 2015

Utah gets tougher seat belt law with governor’s signature

From:  St. George News

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.

Statistics show seat belts save lives

“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 114and his general objection to seat belt laws:

It invites the state into our lives for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting our rights or promoting justice

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Herbert, said the governor signed the bill because seat belts can save lives.

Remind people they should be wearing their seat belt

“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.