SALT LAKE CITY -- State senators are divided on a proposal that would make not wearing a seatbelt on Utah's highways a primary offense.

On Monday the 29 senators were split, 15-14, on their first vote on the legislation. The bill would call on Utah's law enforcement officers to give a warning to those caught not wearing their seatbelt when traveling at high speeds during the first year the law is on the books, and then a citation thereafter.

"We are seeing an increase of unrestrained motorists and the fatalities on our roads are increasing," said Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, the sponsor of the legislation. "I think it is a good opportunity to education our drivers ... how important it is to have that seatbelt on."

Robles stated that half of the fatalities on the highways are due to someone not wearing a seatbelt. She argued this legislation would help save lives.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, amended the bill to add a two-year expiration date. He said when the bill was heard in its public hearing it was said the law was mostly for law enforcement to gather figures on seatbelt usage and to raise awareness of wearing a seatbelt. He said all of that could be accomplished in two years.

Rep. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, spoke against the bill, pointing out the complications an officer may have in even noticing that someone is not wearing a seatbelt when traveling at 80 mph. Harper noted officers need to focus on their safety and the road, not on trying to see if people going the other direction have their seatbelts fastened.

"I see this as another instance of creeping incrementalism that will go toward violating our personal rights," Harper said.

Robles had enough votes to keep her bill alive for another vote from the Senate. Many of the Republican senators who voted for the bill said they would support her bill on the initial vote but it was not clear if they will support the legislation when it comes up for final approval.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
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