Utah lawmakers know it is a good idea to wear seat belts and that teenagers tend to be involved in traffic accidents more often than older drivers.
But recognizing a problem and passing legislation to improve the situation are two different things, especially when personal freedom is at risk.
Legislators had to weigh their interest in improving public safety against their interest in retaining individual rights as they debated two major bills governing Utah drivers. Both measures were sponsored by Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden. Ultimately, only one was successful.
Despite their angst over telling motorists what to do, lawmakers passed SB12, making it a primary offense for anyone under the age of 19 to ride in a motor vehicle without wearing a seat belt.
Under the bill, law officers can ticket seat-belt-law violators under 19 just for breaking that law. Those 19 and older can be ticketed only in conjunction with another traffic violation. The bill also requires children under 4 to be secured in a child safety seat, an increase in age of two years.
Montgomery originally hoped to make failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense for vehicle occupants under 21. But members of the Senate Rules Committee didn't like that idea, and Montgomery's bill sat in that committee for weeks before the age was amended to 19.
Still, not every lawmaker was enthusiastic about it.
"I don't need my mother or my government telling me I must have seat belts on my kids," Sen. Terry Spencer, R-Layton, said during the first floor debate of SB12.
Montgomery's other bill, SB93, was narrowly defeated on the House floor. It would have prevented motorists under 161/2 from driving while anyone who is not an immediate family member is also in the vehicle, except under certain circumstances.
Rural lawmakers were especially concerned about that bill since rural residents, they said, look forward to the day their youngsters turn 16 so they can help out with errands and farm work and drive themselves and their friends to school.
"Now there will be four cars at school instead of one . . . because they can't ride with their friends," Senate Majority Whip Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, said during the Senate's debate of the bill.