SALT LAKE CITY -- Despite pushback from a conservative Republican lawmaker a Senate committee has green lighted a bill that changes Utah's seatbelt law to make not wearing a seatbelt a primary offense.
The committee approved the proposal, which only applies to roads with a speed limit of at least 55 mph, on a vote of 3-2. Under current law not wearing a seatbelt is a secondary offense. West Valley City Sen. Daniel Thatcher worried the bill would make Utah a nanny state.
"There is always a balance between trying to accomplish things like this and the rights of a citizen to go about his life," Thatcher said. "The question we always have to ask ourselves is should we use the power and force of government to compel people to do what we want them to do."
Thatcher made a motion to end debate on the bill and move on to the next item in the committee meeting -- a move that would essentially kill the bill -- but the committee voted instead to approve the measure and send it to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation.
The plan has the support of the various parties interested in transportation in Utah. AAA supported the bill as did the Utah Medical Association and the Utah Highway Patrol.
UHP officials stated that in the last five fatalities on highways in Utah the person killed was not wearing a seatbelt. UHP Col. Danny Fuhr told the committee that UHP supports the bill because it will save lives.
"We don't care about the tickets; we care about that individual making it home safe every night," Fuhr said.
UHP officials noted that states with a primary offense seatbelt law have a more than 90 percent compliance rate to the law. Currently 80 percent of Utahns have reported to UHP that they wear their seatbelt.
The bill will move forward to be considered by the full body of the Senate.