Rep. Lee Perry: ‘bill will save lives’ |

Rep. Lee Perry: ‘bill will save lives’

Starting in May, it really will be "click it or ticket" in Utah. The Utah Legislature approved a measure that will allow law enforcement officials across the state to stop drivers for not wearing a seat belt.

Sponsored by Lee Perry (R-Perry), HB 79 modifies the state Traffic Code to allow the seat belt requirement to be a primary enforcement offense. Currently, it is a secondary enforcement offense, which means a driver can not be stopped for not wearing one unless they commit another traffic violation. However, a secondary law does allow drivers under the age of 18 to be stopped for not wearing a seat belt as a primary offense.

The measure had been proposed in the past, but was never successful.

"The seat-belt issue has been out there for 20 years," Perry said. "This has not been something that has happened overnight."

The bill passed out of the Senate 17- 11 on March 10 and was signed by Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s on Thursday. It will go into effect on May 12.

The support of various state agencies, such as the Utah Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation, contributed to the bill’s passing, Perry said.

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"All the safety advocates have pushed for this," Perry said. "All the scientific data and evidence indicate this is great public policy.

"And sometimes the best policy is the most difficult to pass," he added.

Perry said legislators argued it infringed on personal rights and equated it to having the freedom to choose whether to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.

"People are not convinced that the seat belt is a control-device in the car, but instead is a personal-choice issue," he said.

Perry, who is also a Utah Highway Patrol officer in northern Utah, said part of why he sponsored the measure is because he has personally witnessed fatalities that could have been prevented by the use of a seat belt. He said this bill could save up to approximately 35 lives each year.

"I’ve seen people that are literally torn apart or crushed just because they chose not to wear a seat belt," he said. "I’ve heard people say we are out to generate revenue, but with this particular code, we are more concerned about the safety of the motoring public than any revenue."

According to the bill, public safety officials enforcing the measure will be required to issue a warning for the first violation. After that, the driver would receive a $45 citation for every subsequent offense. However, an amendment in the bill provides another option to avoid paying the fine. Offenders have the opportunity to take a free, short course online and present it to the court.

Another provision in the bill, which Perry said was "sort of a compromise," allows the law to be revisited in 2018.

"Some legislators just couldn’t grasp the idea and said, ‘I’d rather give it a trial run and see if it will work," Perry said. "And that made the difference as to why the vote turned out the way it did.

"If what we have told them and what we see in 2018 doesn’t match up, it will go back to the way it was," he said. "But I think you will see a dramatic change."

Rep. Brian King (D-SLC) ), who represents a portion of western Summit County, said the cost of not wearing a seat belt extends not only to individuals and their families, but also to the public.

It’s a function of cost and safety, he said.

"If we can encourage people to take action that clearly results in greater likelihood of less injury when you have an accident, it’s a no-brainer," King said. "I am thinking we are better off if we encourage seat belt use and I felt justified as a legislator saying we are going to inject the government into the lives of the individual who are running around not wearing their seat belts."

Sergeant Andrew Wright, Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said the language throughout the bill is "interesting," specifically the warning component.

"I’m interested to see the way it would work on a Summit County level," Wright said, adding it would be difficult to know what drivers have received warnings and what drivers haven’t.

"It seems like it would create some sort of logistical nightmare to figure out if someone has ever been warned," he said. "Because my warning will go into our system, however, our system is not shared with other agencies throughout the state."

But as far as the law being changed to a primary offense, Wright said "we all know that seat belts save lives."

"As a law enforcement officer of 11 years, I’ve been on a lot of crashes and it’s pretty obvious," he said. "Personally, I think it is a great thing where we are able to remind drivers it is the law but more so that it is safety thing."

Wright said he hopes that Summit County residents understand that wearing a seat belt is "one of the best chief insurances you can put on yourself."

"This law specifically helps us all remember the importance of it," he said. "This law isn’t’ one that is out there to try and make people’s lives more difficult, but to hopefully have that outcome of saving lives and making the roads safer."