Utah governor signs law making seat belt enforcement primary offense

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Allie Hamilton
A Brigham City family that lost a teenage daughter in a car accident celebrates as Gov. Herbert signs a ceremonial copy of HB 79, a law that creates harsher penalties for not wearing seat belts. (Allie Arnell)

Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed a ceremonial copy of HB 79, allowing law enforcement officers to treat failure to wear proper safety restraints as a primary offense, rather than as a secondary action, this morning at the Utah State Capitol.

Law enforcement officers will issue a maximum fine of $45 for this infraction. As a transitional measure, until July 1, 2018, people will be allowed one warning before receiving a penalty.

“Wearing your seat belt saves lives,” Herbert said. “We find that based on our statistics with public safety and with Utah, half of the fatalities we’ve had over the last decade in highway fatalities have been because people have not been wearing their seat belts.”

Chief sponsor of the law Rep. Lee Perry said although this law is a positive change that will benefit everyone, it hasn’t been easy getting it passed.

“I have fought for this bill for over 20 years as a highway patrolman and for the last five years as a representative,” Perry said.

The Utah Senate passed the bill March 10 with a vote of 17-11. Perry credited the tenacity and courage of many of his constituents with the success.

One Brigham City family proved to be particularly influential. Since their 16-year-old daughter Amanda died in a car crash in 2013, Melissa and Kyle Brown have been lobbying for the cause and teaming up with Zero Fatalities, a national organization dedicated to improving safety.

“At that time I started searching seat belt laws and I said I want a primary seat belt law, because if it would have been a primary seat belt law she would have survived,” Melissa Brown said.

Kyle Brown added, “At the time we didn’t know it was a secondary offense, because you see it, ‘Buckle up, it’s the law.’ We found out later that, no, only for 18 and under it was a primary.”

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires expressed the hardships he saw as a state trooper, witnessing firsthand the fatalities that resulted from not wearing a seat belt.

“In (my) career I have not had anybody tell me ‘your assignment is to go and tell people about the value of wearing seat belts.’ You do it because you become passionate about it because of your experiences and what you’ve seen. And so that’s why we’re really here today,” Squires said.

Immediately before the signing Herbert made one final request to Utahns: “I would hope the people of Utah …. wear your seat belts … because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the common-sense thing to do. It saves lives. Do it because of those reasons. Don’t do it because it’s the law. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

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