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4 measures on traffic safety come to a screeching halt

For traffic-safety advocates, the 2003 Legislature began with high hopes, quickly turned into a nightmare and ultimately yielded no results in the quest for improved road safety.

A slate of four bills was promoted by the Coalition for Utah Traffic Safety, a group of medical professionals, law enforcement officials, businesses and government agencies working to decrease accidents and deaths on Utah's roadways. But none of the four passed.

And those leading the charge for highway safety found themselves on the defensive when HB8, a relatively benign bill designed to clean up current seat-belt legislation, was amended to do away with Utah's seat-belt law altogether.

That controversial amendment, proposed by Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, made it out of a House committee but was removed from the bill after debate on the House floor. After all that, the original bill, which would have clarified that any adult passenger in a car can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, failed to pass the House.

That fight took some wind out of traffic-safety advocates' sails. HB8's sponsor, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, decided the timing was no longer right to proceed with her HB50. That bill would have removed the exemption allowing passengers to ride without seat belts if all the vehicle's seat belts are in use.

The anti-seat belt climate spilled over into the debate on SB99, sponsored by Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake, which would have changed Utah's seat belt law from a secondary to a primary offense. The bill made it out of committee but was defeated on the House floor.

The closest traffic-safety advocates came to advancing their agenda was the Senate's passage of SB125, which would have made it illegal for anyone under 18 to ride in the back of a pick-up truck.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was a somewhat reluctant sponsor of the bill who found the public's opposition to his measure somewhat daunting. He didn't even attend a rally in support of his bill.

SB125 was defeated after its first Senate debate, but Bramble brought it back eight days later and the Senate advanced it to a second debate. Again, the Senate defeated the measure but Bramble brought it back and the Senate voted 15-11 to send it to the House. There, it lacked support from House leadership and died in the House Rules Committee.

Rolayne Fairclough, chairwoman of the Coalition for Utah Traffic Safety, said the slate of bills hit a wall in the form of a "very, very conservative wing that seems to have such a difficult time with just basic safety standards for people."

But, "We didn't lose by that much on any of them," Fairclough said. "And every time we've had any type of safety legislation, we really have to work them for several years before we get them passed."

About the only substantial change in law that could affect motorists, or would-be motorists, was the passage of SB32. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Salt Lake, limits the amount of state money public schools can spend for driver training courses.

Walker said the bill will redirect $1.25 million from drivers education to academic subjects. Parents will have to make up the difference. In some districts, drivers-ed fees will stay the same, but in others they could increase by more than $100.