Karen Cooley said she always told her son, Nick Good, to wear a seat belt.

But a primary seat belt law could have made the point stronger when Good got into his Jeep to drive to a St. George rodeo event, his mother testified Friday. His vehicle rolled over and Good died.

Cooley's emotional testimony came before the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee favorably passed out SB36, a primary seat-belt bill, by a 4-2 vote. Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, voted against it.

Currently, Utah has a primary seat-belt law for people under 19 years old, where they can be ticketed just for not buckling up. For those older, they can still be ticketed but only if they are stopped for another offense first.

This is the fourth attempt in the last five years that a primary seat belt bill has been presented to the Legislature. Previous attempts have failed with last year's bill faltering in the House.

This time the bill is different, a move the sponsor, Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake, hopes will alleviate the concerns of primary seat-belt law opponents.

The main difference is a sunset provision that will cause the law to expire in three years. Opponents of the primary seat-belt law have said they have reservations about encroaching on personal choice. Jones said the time frame will allow lawmakers and transportation officials to review the effectiveness and viability of the law before making it permanent.

UDOT has come out in support of the bill.

Jones, who is picking up the cause carried by former Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake, said her bill would save lives.

"There are volumes of data out there," Jones said about statistics that show seat belt usage saves lives.

Jones said that young men in their 20s are the group most likely to be involved in car accidents while not wearing a seat belt.

"Tickets are the biggest deterrents or incentives (for young male drivers)," she said.

She explained motorist deaths and serious injuries affected more than just the accident victims as Medicaid and other government services are often used to help pay for medical costs related to accidents.

Janet Brooks, the Cchild Aadvocacy Mmanager for Primary Children's Medical Center Hospital, said that children are more likely to wear seat belts if their parents do.

Jones wants her legislation to be called "Nick's bill" in reference to Good.

As Cooley spoke to the committee about her son, her eyes filled with tears. "Nick was just your average kid," she said.

She described him as good student who enjoyed bull riding.

She said her struggles weren't limited to dealing with Good's death. Financial stress compounded the pain of an accident, she explained. Her son left behind a 3-month-old daughter who subsequently spent time in the state foster care system.


Contributing: Nicole Warburton

E-mail: smansell@desnews.com