On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee chose to disregard SB 128, a proposed law from Senator Luz Robles (Democrat – Salt Lake City) that would have made it a primary offense for an individual to fail to wear their seat belt on any roadway with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour or higher, meaning offenders could be pulled over and ticketed solely for that reason.
Robles noted that there is “not only an emotional cost to your family [when not wearing a seat belt], but also a cost to the state… In terms of time and money.” [pullquote]”There are better ways to live your life than to prove you don’t have to wear a seat belt” Utah Highway Patrol Officer Danny Fuhr[/pullquote]
“There is a direct correlation between fatalities on the road and people not wearing their seat belts. This represented nearly half of all fatalities on Utah’s roads.”
Colonel Danny Fuhr with the Utah Highway Patrol was brought in by Robles to testify in favor of her bill and disregarded the argument that seat belt use is a personal choice that doesn’t harm others. “If people want to make a choice to kill themselves and not wear a seat belt, I do respect that… But seat belt use isn’t just a personal decision, it becomes a hazard to others in the vehicle and on the roadway. Failure to [wear a seat belt] increases other fatalities by 40%.”
Fuhr expanded on the idea that there is a very real emotional cost to individuals, law enforcement, and to the state.
In one example, Fuhr noted that in a recent accident that would have been less severe had the driver been wearing a seat belt, “Motorists had to wait 30 minutes each because of [one motorist’s] personal choice… Many people die proving that [not wearing a seat belt] is a personal choice.” But it doesn’t end there in the mind of Fuhr, noting that it is not only family members, but troopers too, who feel the emotional stress of having to tell someone that their loved one has passed. “We have to knock on doors all the time and say ‘your loved one is dead because of their personal choice’.”
“There are better ways to live your life than to prove you don’t have to wear a seat belt” Fuhr put bluntly. Before stepping down, Fuhr pointed made it a point to tell the committee that almost half of those who died on Utah’s highways in 2013 would be alive if they had simply had their seat belts on.
Senator Kevin Van Tassell (Republican – Vernal), and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, voted against SB 128 was not inherently opposed to the bill but felt that mandatory seat belt laws need to be “all the way in or all the way off.” Robles’ bill ultimately failed in the committee by a vote of 1-2.
The committee went on to hear HB 80, authored by Representative Jim Dunnigan (Republican – Taylorsville), which would allow UDOT to begin investigating sections of roadway that could have their legal speed limits raised to 80 miles per hour. This bill passed, and will be debated on the Senate floor.