House bill would make primary offense of failure to wear seat beltA bill set to be introduced in the North Dakota House today would make failing to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense in the state.
By: Bryan Horwath, The Dickinson Press
A bill set to be introduced in the North Dakota House today would make failing to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense in the state.
House Bill 1335 wouldn’t change the current seat belt law, except to allow law enforcement patrol officers to pull over a vehicle solely for the purpose of issuing a seat belt ticket.
“We know that the past two years, fatalities from accidents in our state have been skyrocketing,” said Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “I know I don’t have to tell anyone out in the Dickinson area about that. This would give our officers, at every level, another tool to identify those who aren’t wearing a seat belt.”
Eugene LaDoucer, a spokesman for AAA North Dakota, said support from the public is there for the new provision, citing a recent AAA survey that states 71 percent of those surveyed in the state approve such a measure.
“I think people are starting to understand that traffic crashes, injuries and deaths are a big issue in North Dakota,” LaDoucer said. “A primary seat belt law is the simplest and least expensive way to reduce death and injury on our roads. It’s already the law in North Dakota that you need to buckle up — this would just make it a primary offense. I think people are ready for that.”
The number of points that would go against a motorist’s driving record wouldn’t change and the citation would still cost $20. A similar bill, also sponsored by Owens, was introduced in 2007, but failed to pass.
“I think there’s something that’s being overlooked with regard to this subject and that’s the enforcement of DUI,” Owens said. “When these ladies and guys are drunk and they get in their vehicle, they’re not thinking to put their seat belt on. If a patrolman sees that, he can pull that driver over before they get to that intersection where one of your relatives or my relatives is before they kill them.”
Those opposing the measure say such laws infringe on personal freedoms and could take away from law enforcement — struggling to keep up with the growing number of motorists in western North Dakota — officials spending valuable time in other, more pressing, areas.
“In a way, that’s just adding to our police officers’ plate,” said Shelly Fleck of Dickinson. “I have mixed feelings about it. The police and Highway Patrol have a lot to worry about in this area so I’d hate to have something like this take away from all the other things that need to be taken care of. Pulling people over because they don’t have a seat belt on, especially in city limits, seems like a waste of taxpayer money.”
LaDoucer said AAA statistics show that four out of five drivers in North Dakota currently buckle up. Last year, there was a total of 170 traffic-related fatalities in North Dakota with 65 percent of those known to be unrestrained, according to AAA.
“We just don’t believe that the deaths and injuries we’re seeing on our highways are necessary,” LaDoucer said. “There’s simply no arguing the effectiveness of seat belts. Unfortunately, too many people, particularly teens and young men, view themselves as good drivers and think they won’t get in a crash. We’ve seen a 60 percent increase in the past two years in traffic fatalities on our roads and that can’t continue.”
As far as neighboring states go, both Montana and South Dakota do not have a primary seat belt law on the books while Minnesota does.
“I don’t see a problem with the (primary seat belt law bill),” said Stark County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Dean Franchuk. “It would be another tool we could use. During the day, we can usually tell if a motorist is wearing a seat belt, unless they’re on the highway. At night, it can be a little tougher.”
The bill will be introduced to the House Transportation Committee today before moving along in the legislative process.
“I think the general feeling is that North Dakota is ready for this,” Owens said. “We’ll see what happens. There are still many hills to climb before this becomes law.”