Seat belt law stalls because of liability concerns

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SALT LAKE CITY — The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee sent a bill that would restore liability for not wearing a seat belt to a year’s worth of study.

“I believe driving is a privilege, not a right, and therefore the laws we incorporate to go along with that privilege are things that enhance and make the driving experience safer for everyone including the people in the car but around them as well,” said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, and a Utah Highway Patrol office

Perry, HB305’s sponsor, referenced that in the previous legislative session a bill was passed that made wearing seat belts a personal choice. In that bill was a provision that took away all liability from those not wearing seat belts. HB305 would repeal that provision. Thus people would still have the choice to not wear a seat belt, but they could be held liable if that decision caused an accident or an injury.

John Lawrence, from the Utah Association for Justice, said he supports the promotion of seat belt use but that HB305, as it currently stands, would bring with it a number of unintended consequences.

“We’re no longer focusing on the fact that an accident was caused by a wrongdoer who was being reckless and/or negligent,” Lawrence said. “We’re now focusing, not on the primary act, but the secondary act, which is of a seat belt being worn.”

Lawrence also said the bill needs to carry a large price tag because advertising would be needed and the bill would increase lawsuits.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, made the motion to send the bill back to rules with the recommendation that it goes for interim study. That motion passed unanimously in the committee, meaning that the bill would not move forward to the House or the Senate at this time.

“I think there still needs to be some work done on this piece of legislation,” Greenwood said in regard to the motion. “I don’t think it’s where it ought to be right now. I just think it would be in the best interest of the public if we sent it back to rules and have the interim study done during the summer to make it even a better bill.”

Perry noted they would not have time during this session to fix the bill. However, he was not opposed to the motion because he felt that they need to make sure they are doing it right without any unintended consequences causing serious injury or problems to other people.

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