SALT LAKE CITY — Melissa Brown's daughter would have turned 18 on Friday, but she and a friend died 18 months ago when they were thrown from a pickup truck that crashed on I-15.
Neither Amanda Brown nor Tyler Stuart were wearing seat belts on that June 2013 day near Brigham City. Stuart died instantly. Amanda Brown died at University Hospital several days later.
"Tyler and Mandy would be here today if they were restrained," Melissa Brown told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Friday.
Brown testified in favor of a bill that would make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, meaning police officers could pull over motorists for failing to buckle up.
A seat belt violation is currently a secondary law. Officers may ticket offenders who they have stopped for another reason.
"We don't need force officers to look for something else to pull people over. If they see someone clearly not wearing a safety belt, law enforcement officers ought to be able to make the traffic stop and issue a citation if necessary," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper and sponsor of HB79.
Perry's bill would allow courts to waive the $45 fine if a violator takes a 30-minute seat belt education course.
The committee passed the bill 7-2, and it now goes to the House floor.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said very few bills that lawmakers vote on save lives.
"This one will. No doubt about it," he said.
Perry said 83 percent of Utahns wear seat belts. The percentage has increased in states that have made it a primary offense, he said.
UHP Maj. Mike Rapich said of the 134 fatalities on Utah roads last year, 62 were not wearing seat belts.
"This is not a symbolic bill," he said.
Wellington resident Cindy O'Neil testified against the measure, saying it impinges on personal choice.
"Wearing a seat belt will not make me a better driver, and the laws should not criminalize my freedom," she said. "As long as we hurt no one, it should be left to us."
Josh Daniels, Libertas Institute policy analyst, called it "government paternalism." He said the state should defer to the judgment of adults who make the responsible decision most of the time.
Tyler Stuart's mother, Kelly Stuart, said people can still choose not to buckle up, but the law would serve as an incentive to make the right choice.
"I taught my boys their whole lives to wear their seat belts. Tyler thought he was invincible. He chose not to wear his seat belt that day, " she said. "I think a lot of people think it's not going to happen to me."
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