Although empirical evidence tells a different story, a large majority of Utahns favor highway speed limits and claim they wear seat belts, a Utah Department of Public Safety poll said.

The survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the state agency, said 80 percent of the Utahns polled favored the 55/65 mph speed limits on state highways. Those most likely to oppose it tended to be Weber County residents, families with four or more vehicles and those claiming no religious affiliation, the poll said.More than half (59 percent) said they always fasten their seat belts when driving, while one-in-20 never do.

The survey was conducted in August and polled a random sample of 605 Utah drivers.

But other department surveys taken about a year ago adjust those claims downward. Observation teams found 33 percent of the drivers on local roads were wearing seat belts, while motorists on the highway and freeway buckled up 45 percent of the time.

Support for speed limits can also be toned down, considering Utah's non-compliance with speed limits in the past 12 months may cost the state up to $3 million in federal highway funds. The federal government can withhold certain highway funds if more than half of the state's motorists violate interstate speed limits. State observation stations recorded 50.3 percent non-compliance with speed limits in a 12-month period ending Sept. 30.

Almost 80 percent of those polled said they were concerned about losing federal dollars because of speeding. Fifty-seven percent were content with current enforcement of the speed limit, while 37 percent favored stricter enforcement.

But this two-faced response to speeding could be explained by the 80 percent who told Jones they considered themselves "excellent drivers," said Public Safety Commissioner Doug Bodrero, referring to a yet-to-be publicized portion of the survey.

He explained that such a response indicates a majority of Utah motorists believe speeding laws should keep others in line, not themselves.

But Utahns' perceived driving expertise was shot down recently in a study by the Insurance Research Council that found Utah drivers the most accident prone in the West and the 13th worst in the nation.

Public Safety notes, however, its recent survey and highway fatality statistics indicate a heightened awareness of traffic safety.

Some 268 people have died on Utah highways as of Dec. 26, compared with 293 at the same time in 1989. If the current rate continues, the department said, Utah will post its lowest death toll in 15 years.

The poll also found Utahns generally confused about child safety restraint regulations, although a large majority (85 percent) favored strict enforcement of the laws.

Just half were aware of the law requiring children be restrained regardless of who is driving. And even fewer people were aware children up to 8 years old must be restrained.

Eighty-three percent of the parents questioned said they use safety restraints for infants and small children, while less than half used them on children older than 8 years. Utah law requires a restraint for children older than 8 years when riding in the front seat.