HB79: Buckle Up for Safety

By Will Glade
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — “Buckle up, it’s the law” took on a whole new meaning for Utahns this year.

HB79 passed through hell and high water this session to make it to the governor’s desk where it awaits his signature. The primary seat belt law was run by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who is a highway patrolman when  the legislature is not in session. Perry dubbed this law the “Tyler and Mandi Law” in honor of two teens who were killed in a fatal rollover up in Box Elder County. Both Perry and the parents of the teenagers, believe that if there had been a stricter seat belt law in Utah, Amanda Brown and Tyler Stewart would still be here today.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

“There is no reason why two children died in that truck that day. If they had been wearing their seat belts they would have walked away from that motor vehicle crash,” Perry said.

Mandi and Tyler were both in high school when the crash occurred. Tyler was killed on the scene and Mandi died days later at the University of Utah Hospital.

“Nobody should have to bury their child, especially the way Kelli (Stewart) and I had to,” said Melissa Brown, mother of Amanda Brown. Both parents were supporters of Perry’s bill.

The bill, once signed by the governor, will make Utah’s current secondary law into a primary law. This means that law enforcement will be able to pull drivers for not wearing a seatbelt, whereas they could not do so before this bill.

Although this bill passed, it was highly controversial in both the House and the Senate. It passed the House 41-32, one of the closest votes seen in the House this session.

“It is interesting,we have all heard the phrase many, many times: those who would trade a little bit of liberty for a little bit of safety deserve neither. And what I love is, each one of our colleagues who has spoken in favor of this bill says, or something to this akin, ‘I am usually in favor of liberty, but … I’m in favor of this, but … I’m in favor of that, but … .’ Colleagues, it’s time for us to get our butts out of the way of people,” said Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton during the House floor debate.

Many of the other representatives spoke in favor of the bill for different reasons.

“I have a 21-year-old daughter and I want to send a message to her and her friends anytime I can to buckle up,” said Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton. “That is a perspective, as a father, I want to portray.”

The Senate was no different, there was much debate and the vote was 17-11, but in the end the bill passed and will now continue on to the governor’s office.

HB79 does have a sunset on it, which essentially means that unless the legislature decides to renew it, the law will expire in July 2018. Many lawmakers wanted to ensure that if the bill does not increase the seatbelt usage in the state and decrease fatalities, that it will be easy to revert to the old law.

Perry stated that in each state that enacted a primary seatbelt law, law enforcement saw an increase in seatbelt usage of 10 to 15 percent. Such an increase would put Utah in the 90th percentile for people using a seatbelt while driving.

Violators of the law will be issued a ticket of no more than $45,

which will be waived upon taking a 30 minute course online. The goal is to educate rather than generate revenue, according to Perry.

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