Despite the fact that Utah has one of the highest seat belt usage rates in the nation, nearly 200 of our citizens die each year in crashes because they weren't wearing a seat belt. Clearly, education is not enough. Utah needs to take the next step and adopt a primary seat belt law.
The law would allow police officers to pull people over when the driver or their passengers are seen not wearing seat belts and immediately cite the driver, instead of having to wait for some other infraction to occur. The main argument against passing a primary seat belt law seems to be that is unnecessary.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Last year, 174 of our fellow citizens died because they weren't wearing a seat belt.
The high incidence of non-belt use in fatal collisions indicates that education alone is not enough. Those who know the benefits and still elect not to belt up constitute the majority of fatal victims. Research shows they are likely to respond to a primary seat belt law.
Adult men between 19 and 35 years are overly represented in fatal crashes and serious injury crashes that often lead to life-long complications. These young men are often fathers, husbands and productive members of our society. The existing primary law, covering only people up to 19 years of age, does not protect these individuals. Nor does it protect the citizens of Utah from the costs associated with victims' medical care and disability. In Utah, 85 percent of medical costs for crashes fall on society, not on the individuals involved. As taxpayers, we cover nearly $7 million in unbelted crash victims' hospital fees each year. In fact, for the past five years, average hospital charges for unbelted occupants have been more than double the charge for belted occupants.
In a recent poll conducted by the Utah Highway Safety Office, 71 percent of Utahns indicated they want a primary seat belt law. For the cost to taxpayers and most importantly for the tragic cost to society of lives cut short, AAA urges the Utah State Legislature to pass a primary seat belt law during the next session. We simply can't afford not to.
Rolayne Fairclough is the public affairs and legislative representative for AAA Utah and serves as the chair of the Coalition for Utah Traffic Safety.