By Sara Israelsen
More than 30 people gathered in the Utah Capitol rotunda this morning to voice their support of the seat belt bill Senate Bill 71. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake, would create a primary seat belt law, meaning law enforcement officers could pull over anyone not wearing a seatbelt, not just drivers 19 and younger.
Rolayne Fairclough, the public affairs and legislative analyst for Triple A of Utah began the press conference by asking legislators to help save the lives of Utah residents. Fairclough said a law is needed because many people may not realize the importance of seatbelts.
“Maybe they just don”t have the habit yet,” she said. “They don”t think it”s important, because it”s not really a law.”
Each year an estimated 174 people die as a result of car accidents where seat belts weren”t worn. Bob Parenti, President of the Utah Safety Council called this one of the most significant public health issues faced by state legislators in years.
Susan Horning spoke at the gathering. Horning and her family are survivors of a car accident where seatbelts saved their lives.
“I know for a fact,” she said, “if we weren”t buckled, I and my three children wouldn”t be here. If we weren”t buckled, we would have been all over that field, just like our stuff.”
Greg Rynders is the batallion chief for the Sandy Fire Department. He and his men have been at the scene of thousands of car accidents and also know the value of seatbelts.
“I know I”ve never taken a seatbelt off of a dead person,” he said. “Airbags and seatbelts both save lives.”
Rynders said this law was needed as a basic precaution, and was an important investment for society.
“We wouldn”t think of leaving poisons laying around,” he said. “Why would we think of going down the road in a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds with the potential of injuring ourselves or others?”
Educating drivers and passengers is a necessary step, and Fairclough said she thinks that will be possible, thanks to placement of the bill in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. Many of the legislators on the Natural Resources committee represent rural counties; counties that typically have lower seat belt usage numbers.
“The people of Utah are its greatest natural resources,” Fairclough said. “Hopefully today the rural legislators will truly represent the best interest of their constitutients.”
As well as saving Utahns lives, this bill would help save Utahns dollars. According to a study by the Intermountain Injury Control Research Center, $6.6 million dollars in hospital charges could be saved each year if drivers and passengers would buckle up.
“An injury is an injury, a death is a death,” Parenti said. “And it costs money.”
Alan Behunin, a former Utah Representative, said he was one of the committee members who over a decade ago, voted down the first seat belt law. Since that law was rejected, over 10,000 people have died. Behunin says he watches with horror as the numbers increase.
“I wonder how representatives in this session will feel 30 years from now if they don”t step up and pass this law that should have been passed 30 years ago.”
Fairclough said there are over 75 different groups and agencies supporting the passage of the bill, including the Coalition for Utah Traffic Safety, Law Enforcement Legislative Committee, Primary Children”s Medical Center and Utah Sheriffs Association.