Utah fails to approve stricter seat-belt law

| 3/18/2005

A bill intended to permit police in Utah to pull over drivers who are not buckled up has died in a conference committee.

The House approved the bill earlier but with some amendments. The Senate, which previously passed the legislation, didn’t agree with the changes.

The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Hale, D-Midvale, would have allowed police to ticket drivers 19 or older for seat-belt violations. House lawmakers removed that provision after they approved an amendment to suspend driver’s licenses of 16- and 17-year-olds for 30 days for not buckling up.

Currently, police can ticket drivers 19 or older for seat-belt violations only after stopping vehicles for another traffic violation. However, such violations are a primary offense for anyone under the age of 19.

The bill failed passage despite apparent broad public backing.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll taken earlier this year showed two of three Utah residents support a stricter seat-belt law.

Opposing lawmakers, however, say the effort is an unneeded government intrusion. Rep. Craig Buttars, R-Lewiston, said he was concerned that if the state started forcing everyone to wear seat belts because it’s good for them, it could extend to prohibiting people from eating fast food because it’s not good for them.

In addition, the Legislature’s failure to adopt the stricter seat-belt rules could cost Utah some federal funding.

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said recently the federal government planned to offer a $17 million, one-time incentive to states that passed a primary law.

Utah is one of 28 states without the stricter provision. Twenty-one states allow police to pull over drivers solely for not wearing their seat belts. New Hampshire is the only state without a mandatory seat-belt law.