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Report forecasts safer roads with primary seat belt law

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Foundation report released today shows the state has made strides in seat belt use and drunken driving. But there is still work to do on distracted driving and cellphone use behind the wheel.

The report is titled, "Utah in the Fast Lane: An Analysis of Driving and Traffic Safety." Among the findings: Utah will have among the strongest seat belt laws in the nation May 12. That's when an officer can pull a driver over for not wearing a seat belt as a primary offense.

"Seat belt use absolutely corresponds with lower fatalities," said Melissa Proctor, research analyst for the Utah Foundation.

In six weeks, Utah drivers won't have to speed, drive drunk or break any other law for police to pull them over and ticket them for not wearing a seat belt.

Bill sponsor Representative Lee Perry is also a lieutenant in the UHP. He says education and enforcement will save lives with this law.

"Not in a heavy-handed way," said Perry. "But in a way that we will be able to promote safety on our roadways by the use of seat belts."

Under the three-year pilot program, the first offense brings only a warning. Second offense: a citation. But the offender can have the fine waived with the completion of an online safety course.


With that, we're going to save lives. I think the public is going to start to appreciate the fact that wearing a seat belt is just as important as not driving drunk, just as important as not driving reckless, and just as important as not following too close and any of the other traffic laws we have on the books.

–Rep. Lee Perry


Right now, state surveys show 83 percent of Utahns buckle up. The report forecasts a 10 percent rise in compliance with the new law, which 33 other states and the District of Columbia already enforce.

"For example, California, Washington, and Oregon that have primary seat belt laws, and have had for many years, have rates as high as 96 and 97 percent," said Proctor.

New Hampshire, the only state with no seat belt law, has 72 percent compliance.

Perry said the legislature has debated a law like this for two decades, while compliance hit a plateau. He called the passage of the bill "monumental."

"With that, we're going to save lives," he said, and probably change behaviors. "I think the public is going to start to appreciate the fact that wearing a seat belt is just as important as not driving drunk, just as important as not driving reckless, and just as important as not following too close and any of the other traffic laws we have on the books."

So far this year, the UHP has investigated 18 traffic fatalities. Among those, 10 of the victims, more than half, were not wearing seat belts. On average, more than 50 percent of the victims in fatal crashes they investigate were not buckled up.

Perry and other UHP leadership are convinced many of those fatalities are preventable deaths that will be saved by the new law.

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Jed Boal

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