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A bill designed to toughen enforcement of seat belt laws crashed in a House committee Tuesday.

The House Transportation Committee voted 2-5 against HB283. While the committee had virtually no debate on it after hearing testimony, such bills have failed for years because of concern that they infringe on personal liberty.

Its sponsor, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Utah Highway Patrol officer, told the committee that such arguments are faulty.

"With that same logic, one could argue that all traffic signs and barriers set to keep the careless from falling to their death should be pulled down on the theory that each individual has the moral right to choose how close to the edge they will go," he said.

Currently, Utah law requires wearing seat belts, but it is only a "secondary" offense — meaning police can issue a ticket for it only if they pull over drivers for other violations first. The bill would have made it a primary offense on roads where the speed limit is 45 mph or higher.

UHP and the Utah Department of Transportation testified in favor of the bill, saying that not using seat belts is currently a top contributor to fatalities on Utah highways.

Perry said not wearing seat belts endangers others besides the person who fails to wear it. He said it leads some drivers to lose control and crash, and it allows unbelted passengers to "become projectiles" endangering others in crashes.

A similar bill has been progressing, barely, in the Senate. SB114 by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, would make wearing seat belts a primary offense on state highways with speed limits greater than 55 mph. It survived by one vote in committee, and by one vote in a preliminary vote in the full Senate.

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