SALT LAKE CITY – A new seat belt law goes into effect on Tuesday, and on Mother’s Day a woman who lost her daughter in a car accident where a seat belt might have made the difference spoke about the importance of having and using working seat belts.
Amanda Brown was 16 when she was killed after a crash on I-15 near Tremonton in 2013. The driver of the truck she was in over-corrected and lost control of the vehicle, which rolled down an embankment about six times. The driver and the third juvenile in the vehicle suffered critical injuries.
Amanda was in critical condition after being ejected during the crash, and she died a few days later. Her mother, Melissa, said their family’s tragedy should serve as a reminder to people to buckle up.
“Teach your children to buckle up, even when they’re not with you, always buckle up, and make it a family rule,” she said.
But, Brown said it goes beyond just buckling up. She said she learned after the accident that the belts in the truck her daughter was in did not always lock properly and would sometimes come undone if the vehicle went over a bump. She said now she encourages everyone to make sure that their cars have working seat belts.
“I told Zero Fatalities, I really want a primary seat belt law, and I also want people to check the seat belts in the truck, because we found out at the hospital when Mandy was there that [the vehicle’s] seat belts didn’t lock.”
Amanda "always" wore her belt, Brown said, which is why she believes it's likely her daughter had buckled up only to have the belt fail.
She said she worked with Zero Fatalities, the Utah Department of Transportation, and lawmakers like Rep. Lee Perry, R-District 29, and others to help pass the primary seat belt law, which has helped with the grief of losing a daughter.
“It’s been a great blessing for me because it’s helped me coping with the loss of Mandy, I’m learning so much—things that I never even would have thought of," she said. "I told Lee, I said, ‘Tell me what I have to do, I’m willing to do anything and everything to get this law passed.’”
Brown said some teens, like the driver in the crash that killed her daughter, look older than their actual age and as such wouldn’t get pulled over for not wearing a seat belt under the previous law. But she said the new law means that anyone not wearing a seat belt can be pulled over solely for that reason, regardless of their age.
“It covers everybody. As of May 12th: They will pull you over if you do not have a seat belt. They do not have to get you for speeding, they don’t have to get you for not using your blinker: If a police or highway patrol sees you without a belt, they can pull you over.”
Brown said the law is written so that the first offense results in a warning, and on the second offense the fine for the ticket can be avoided if the violator takes an online safety class.
“It wants to educate people,” she said of the law. “It doesn’t want to take money from people. It wants to educate people and I think that’s awesome.”
And Brown said that goal of education is important. She points to her daughter’s death as an example, as she said many people don’t realize how big of a difference a fully functioning seat belt can make until they see the photos of the crash that killed Amanda, which are in the gallery below.
“It has been very emotional, she’s our only girl,” she said. “I just look at the truck, and I see pictures, and the truck’s intact. I mean, there’s no busted out windows, it was a survivable crash. And, it does: Every day I’m like, why? Why didn’t you have your seat belt on? You knew better, you were taught to always have your belt on. And, it is, it’s hard.”
Brown said the new law means a lot to her because she knows full-well the pain of losing a loved one in a situation that could have been avoided if simple precautions had been taken.
“It’s very important to me that this law was passed because I want to save a family from going through what we went through,” she said. “It’s hard to lose a loved one, any loved one. I’ve lost my dad, I’ve lost my mother-in-law, but losing a 16-year-old girl who was so full of life and from something that, Ah!, by just clicking up could have saved her life: It’s tragic. And I don’t want another family to have to go through that.”
But even with the new legislation taking effect, Brown said her work isn’t finished. She said she wants to do everything she can to educate people about wearing their seat belt and driving safely--as tragedy can strike when you least expect it.
“You know what, you don’t plan to get into an accident," she said. "I don’t get up in the morning and go to work and say, ‘Oh I’m going to get into an accident. I’m going to pull out in front of somebody or I’m going to run a red light.’ That stuff happens. It happens every day. And just with the educating, it does change people, it does change their behavior.”
She said the reason she is sharing this message on Mother’s Day is so that others don’t have to experience the pain her family has suffered.
“Every day, our life is never going to be the same,” she said. “Our hearts are broken. And if I just, if I get people to see that, hey, you know, you don’t wanna be like us. You don’t want to have to suffer. And I think that education is so important.”
Brown’s efforts to raise awareness are part of the state’s Zero Fatalities campaign, which aims to end deaths on Utah roadways. Click here for more information on Zero Fatalities, including statistics and safety tips.
For more information about Utah's new seat belt law, click here.