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TOUGHENED SEAT-BELT LAW GAINS

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Many people agree seat belts save lives. And if more people wore seat belts, more lives would be saved.

But should police officers have the right to stop motorists to determine whether or not they are wearing seat belts? The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee says yes, approving a bill Friday that toughens Utah's mandatory seatbelt law.Lawmakers removed one provision that would have raised the penalty from $10 per violation to $20 a ticket.

"I don't want anyone to suffer the way I have suffered," said Christine Wach, who lost her husband in a car wreck. "In just seconds, all my hopes and dreams were gone. We need to help save these lives and stop the suffering."

But the committee was packed with opponents who said the bill constituted an unwarranted intrusion into the personal choice. "It's just another tool to harass and intimidate," said Dave Layton. "There are things more important than highway dollars, things like free agency and the right to choose."

Rep. Nancy Lyon, R-Bountiful, the sponsor of the bill, said the law is needed to "protect the human resources of our state and send the message `your life has value to the state of Utah.' "

Current law mandates seatbelt use, but officers can stop motorists only if they are suspected of violating some other traffic law. The bill expands their authority to stop motorists to specifically check for seatbelt compliance.

The Utah Highway Patrol said the lives of 87 people who died in traffic accidents could have been saved last year if the occupants had been wearing seat belts.