By Amy Nelson
Travelers can expect extra seat belt enforcement this weekend as the “Make it Second Nature” campaign begins.
Police officers in five counties throughout Utah are joining forces to educate Utah drivers and passengers about the benefits of wearing seat belts and the law that enforces it, which went into effect May 1.
Salem Police Chief Brad James said this is a national campaign to educate and get people to wear their seat belts. He said Salem has had an extra officer out every day, specifically to enforce the wearing of seat belts.
“The key thing this weekend is to let the public know that the law has changed,” said Springville Lt. Dave Caron.
Caron said Springville officers have been instructed to watch for seatbelt use and enforce compliance with the new law. Officers will distribute informational cards about the safety belt law on every traffic stop and issue verbal or written warnings, Caron said.
The law, passed earlier this year in the 2000 Utah legislative session, requires that all passengers in a vehicle be buckled if a safety belt is available and all children under age four must be properly restrained in an approved car safety seat. Violators face a fine of $45, which can be reduced to $15 if a traffic safety educational class is completed.
According to Sgt. Bill Wright of Payson, May 22 to 29 is the first segment of the campaign, which will be continued over the next four years. He said the state of Utah has received grant money to pay officers for overtime hours spent educating the public and enforcing the safety belt law.
There will be several segments of added enforcement; the first segment this weekend is primarily to issue warnings and distribute the informational cards about the law, Wright said.
The cards state that “the purpose of this law is to protect Utahns from needless death and injury and to reduce taxpayer costs resulting from traffic collisions.”
According to CRASH data from the Intermountain Injury Control Research Center, unbelted crash participants in Utah County were 30.2 times more likely to die in a crash and 4.1 times more likely to require inpatient hospitalization than those who were belted.
Lt. Carl Johnston said officers in Spanish Fork will concentrate on areas around the high school because teenagers are the ones who break the seat belt law anyway, because they don’t see the need to keep the law as much as others.
Teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 are the least likely to be buckled up, according to the CRASH data, and nearly 20 percent of Utah County crash participants in that age group were unbelted.
James said one of the main changes with this law is that drivers under 19 can be pulled over just for not wearing a seat belt. For those over the age of 19, a seat belt citation would be a secondary offense, issued only after the driver is pulled over for another reason.