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Op-ed: Let's start pulling people over for not buckling up

Published July 3, 2014 5:43 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's legislative, transportation and public safety leaders have done a remarkable job of reducing fatalities on Utah's highways over the last several years. Considering the enormous growth in vehicle miles traveled, proportionately fewer people die in traffic accidents than ever before.

However, even one traffic fatality is one too many. More lives could be saved, and more heartbreak and tragedy prevented, if all Utah drivers did two simple things: buckle up and avoid use of cell phones while driving. While most drivers buckle up, more would do so if Utah adopted a primary seat belt law. In a recent legislative committee meeting, Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director Carlos Braceras reiterated his plea for a primary seat belt law to reduce highway deaths.

I'm a highway engineer who takes pride in building safe roads that improve mobility and keep goods and services flowing to maintain Utah's strong economy. I'm pleased that my industry, working with UDOT, is building safer roads all the time.

UDOT has installed hundreds of miles of cable barriers on freeways, crash cushions, rumble strips and other safety measures. These efforts, combined with much safer vehicles, have meant a significant decline in the fatality rate on Utah's roads and highways.

Now we must look at the human side of the equation to continue to reduce fatalities. One factor we can't control with safer highways and safer cars is how many people wear seat belts and how many people drive distracted. Buckling up is required by law, but it's still an individual choice made every time someone gets in a vehicle to drive to work, to shop, or to a sporting event. A primary seat belt law would allow troopers and officers to pull over drivers solely for a seat-belt violation.

Remember, you can be the safest driver in the world and still become a traffic fatality. Unfortunately, not everyone else on the highway is a safe driver and too many people drive while distracted, impaired or sleepy. Black ice, slick roads and hydroplaning can occur unexpectedly. No one can ever know when a perfectly innocent driver might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By wearing a seat belt, the likelihood of survival increases dramatically. This one simple thing is guaranteed to save lives. And primary seat belt laws increase the rate of buckling up. A national study cited by UDOT found that average seat belt use rates were 12 percent higher in states with a primary seat belt law.

Driving or riding without a seat belt produces consequences for more than just the unbuckled person. It affects others. An unbuckled person becomes a deadly projectile in a major accident. Even in a minor accident, an unbuckled driver can get tossed around and is far more likely to lose control of the vehicle than a driver properly using restraints.

Driving or riding without a seat belt is already illegal. Extending the requirement as a primary offense will boost seat belt use and will save lives every year. The person saved might be me or you or someone we love.

Whether or not the Legislature enacts a primary seat belt law in its session next January, please always buckle up to protect yourself, your loved ones, and other drivers.

Ron Clegg is a vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global planning, engineering, and construction management firm.