A Utah lawmaker will introduce a measure this session that would add teeth to the state’s seatbelt law by empowering police to pull someone over solely for not wearing their seatbelt.
Republican Rep. Lee Perry, a supervisor with the Utah Highway Patrol, wants to make seat belt violations a primary offense, rather than a secondary offense, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Currently, officers can only issue the $45 ticket for not wearing a seatbelt if a person is pulled over for another reason.
Perry estimates about 35 lives could be saved each year if the measure passed and people took the law more seriously. He says he was motivated to push the proposal after seeing yet another accident last year where the driver died because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
“It was the third year in a row that I was called to an accident like that,” Perry said.
Perry likely faces a stiff challenge to get the bill passed: Previous attempts to make seatbelt laws a primary offense have failed in the legislature with opponents saying it would take away people’s rights.
“That’s absolutely not the case at all,” Perry said. “I want to protect people.”
Perry said the increase in speed limits on many Utah highways makes it more important than ever to pass the bill.
He says several families of people who died in car accidents because they weren’t wearing seatbelts are prepared to testify at hearings.
Those include the parents of Tyler Stuart and Mandi Brown of Brigham City, a pair of 16-year-olds who died last June when they were passengers in a truck that lost control on a highway near Tremonton.
Perry sees the deaths as a prime example of the need for his law.
“If you look at their truck, there’s no reason that two children should have died that day. It was intact,” Perry says. “If they had worn seatbelts, they would have walked away from that crash.”
Melissa Brown, mother of Mandi Brown, says she believes her daughter and another boy who died gave into peer pressure and didn’t buckle up.
“If there were a mandatory law, I think they would have had their belts on because the Highway Patrol could have pulled them over and given them all tickets,” Brown said.
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