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Law enforcement working overtime to encourage travelers to buckle up

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Utah Highway Patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers will be working overtime shifts this weekend to encourage nighttime seat belt use.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers will be working overtime shifts this weekend to encourage nighttime seat belt use.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Highway Patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers will be working overtime shifts this weekend to encourage nighttime seat belt use.

Seat belt use decreases between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

"We're not sure why that is, but we figured we better do some education and enforcement to get the message out that you need to have your seat belt on just as much at night as you have to have it on during the day," UHP trooper Lawrence Hopper said.

Only 10 percent of crashes occur at night, and 22 percent of roadway fatalities happen in those hours, police said. And 64 percent of crashes that occur during the nighttime hours involve someone who isn't buckled up.

"I'm not about to say that had they worn their seat belts, every single one of them would have survived. Unfortunately there are some crashes that aren't survivable," Hopper said.

Pulling someone over gives officers a chance to share statistics and information about seat belt use, he said.

Survival rates increase by 50 percent if a seat belt is worn, Hopper said.

"It doesn't make sense why people wouldn't take those odds," he said.

In May 2015, a new law went into effect changing Utah's seat belt law from secondary to primary. Before the change, seat belt violations could only be cited if the driver was committing some other offense. Now, Utah law enforcers can pull someone over just because they aren't wearing a seat belt.

In the nearly 10 months since HB79 went into effect, law enforcement officials have some information on its impacts, though there aren't any definitive results, Hopper said.

In 2015, from Jan. 1 to March 22, there were 16 fatalities on Utah roads resulting from unrestrained passengers, according to information from the Utah Department of Highway Safety. During the same time period this year, there were only eight fatalities.

A survey taken in June 2015, just a month after the new law took effect, showed a 3.8 percent statewide increase in seat belt use, according to Zero Fatalities, a public safety initiative partnership between the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Highway Patrol. Before the law was enacted, the state saw a 0.5 percent to 1 percent average annual increase.

"While this survey is a good indicator, we need to gather more survey and crash data, acquired over time, to best understand trends in relation to the new primary seat belt law," according to a statement from Zero Fatalities.

The next survey is scheduled for June.

During 2015, 31 percent of car crash fatalities resulted from failure to wear a seat belt, according to Zero Fatalities. Over the past five years, the average is 45 percent.

The Department of Public Safety encourages everyone to "advocate seat belt use, day and night."

Those found not wearing a seat belt could face a $45 citation, which can be waived by completing a short online course.

"Our goal this weekend is to save lives, not write tickets," said a statement from the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Contributing: Jed Boal

Email: elarson@deseretnews.com