There is ample evidence that a primary seat-belt law like the one currently before the Utah Legislature will save as many as 30 to 40 lives a year. Arguments against such a law do not constitute a reason to justify a higher toll of death and injury on Utah roadways.

Primary seat-belt laws are in effect in 36 states. It’s time for Utah to join them. House Bill 79, sponsored by a lawmaker who also is a Highway Patrol officer, would make not wearing a seat belt a primary driving offense, meaning police could pull over a motorist for that reason alone. Current law allows police to cite motorists for failure to use restraining devices as a secondary offense, when noticed upon pulling them over for any other infraction.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a UHP lieutenant, has pushed for such a law in previous legislative sessions only to see it fail out of concerns about government over-reach. Those concerns are simply not rational given the multitude of data demonstrating the high personal and social costs incurred by the failure of drivers and passengers to be properly restrained.

According to the Utah Department of Transportation, of the 256 people who died in traffic accidents last year in Utah, nearly half were not wearing seat belts. National studies cited by Perry indicate that a primary seat-belt law will increase use by 12 percent, resulting in fewer deaths and less severe injuries.

Simply put, buckling up is responsible behavior. Opponents of seat-belt laws are essentially arguing that acting irresponsibly — even when it may intrude on the well -being of others — is a right of personal agency. Their argument extends the libertarian ethic of individual choice to an absurd extreme. There are hundreds of driving laws on the books. Would the opponents of seat-belt laws argue that drivers should refuse to use a turn signal while merging on the freeway as a statement of social conscience, or that they should leave their headlights off while driving in the dark as a valid act of civil disobedience against tyrannical government?

Perry’s bill comes before the Legislature just as Utah has witnessed a sharp bump in the rate of annual traffic-related deaths and injuries. The Legislature should take notice of that and do what it can to arrest the trend, including passage of HB79. State law already requires seat-belt use. The battle over choice has been decided, and a primary seat-belt law would simply encourage more people to make the right choice more often.