HB79: Mandatory seatbelt law passes first committee hurdle

Haley Sotelo
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY ― Emotions flared up at the Utah State Capitol over the issue of safety belts on earlier this session during the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee.

There was standing room only as Melissa Brown of Tremonton talked about her experience of having her daughter, Amanda, killed in an accident because she was not wearing a safety belt.

Her story was the anchor of testimony supporting a primary Utah safety belt law sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry. The measure would make wearing a safety belt mandatory for all persons. It would give police officers the ability to pull over a car cite a passenger of driver for not wearing a safety belt. The bill was passed with a 7-2 margin and moves the House floor for debate.

For Perry, the law is personal as he is also a lieutenant at the Utah Highway Patrol and had responded to Amanda’s crash.

“When she died a piece of us died with her,” Brown said as she spoke about her daughter Amanda who would have turned 18 that day. The accident that she was in involved the driver to have his back broken, another friend, Tyler, to die, and for her to be brain dead and to eventually be taken off life support.

“Our family is forever changed and we will never be the same. All we have now is memories and the [painful knowing] that Mandy and Tyler are never coming home.”

“I hear sometimes that it’s a personal choice. I’m here to tell you it’s not,” Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said as he talked about the need to educate others on how to avoid deadly behaviors.

“The choice to not wear a seatbelt affects not only you as an individual, but it affects everyone else in the car.”

In Utah, 17 percent of drivers do not wear seatbelts every day. They represent the 50 percent who die in car crashes where a person is not wearing a seatbelt. Also, someone who is not wearing a safety belt at the time of a crash has a 40 percent chance of injuring or killing another individual.

Multiple states have made wearing a safety belt a primary law and have seen an increase in seatbelt usage. For Utah, as well, it would ensure that minor accidents do not turn fatal, saving individuals’ lives as well as the sentiments of their families.

Shortly after Brown spoke the public was asked to raise their hands for who wanted to speak in favor or in opposition of the bill. Only three people raised their hands in opposition. The majority of the room raised their hands in favor.

“Teach your kids,” Cindy O’Neil, Wellington, said in opposition as she advocated personal freedom. “Wearing a seatbelt will not make me a better driver.”

“A lot of people think ‘it will never happen to me’,” Kelly Stuart, Tyler’s mother, said in emotional advocacy. “I have taught my boys their whole lives to wear their seatbelt. I think Tyler thought he was invincible and he chose not to wear his seatbelt that day.”

HB 79 is currently awaiting a vote from the full Utah House of Representatives.

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