FARGO — The latest statistics on motor vehicle fatalities say it all. In North Dakota, 70% of those who died did not wear a seat belt. In Minnesota, that figure is 34%. On top of that, seat belt violations in Minnesota during Click it or Ticket campaigns are down by an impressive 60% since 2014.
What’s the difference between the two states? Minnesota has a primary seat belt law and North Dakota does not. In Minnesota, drivers can be cited for not wearing a seat belt. In North Dakota, drivers can only be cited if they commit another offense, such as speeding or drunk driving. It’s time for this to change. As the figures tell us, North Dakota needs a primary seat belt law.
North Dakota legislators say it’s all about “personal freedom.” What’s more important, “personal freedom” or saving lives? The people needlessly dying are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and good friends.
The point of speeding and drunk driving laws is safety. So, for safety’s sake, why don’t we have a primary seat belt law? For that matter, why is it mandatory for automakers to install seat belts in vehicles, but not mandatory to wear them? Also, if you want to fly on an airplane, there’s no such thing as “personal freedom.” If you don’t put on your seat belt, you’re not going anywhere. Why do we treat airplane passengers differently than motor vehicle passengers? Moreover, it’s much more dangerous to travel by car than by plane.
It’s heartbreaking to look at the 2018 North Dakota Highway Patrol accident reports. Among those who were not wearing their seat belts, ejected from their vehicles and died at the scene were a 29-year-old woman from Tioga, N.D., a 22-year-old man from Moorhead, Minn., a 55-year-old man from Cavalier, N.D., a 53-year-old man from Walhalla, N.D., and a 28-year-old woman from Fargo. The 28-year-old woman was 7 months pregnant. I doubt their grieving families are happy they exercised their “personal freedom.”
Putting on a seat belt only takes a few seconds. You don’t even notice you are wearing one. You also never know when you will need them. That’s why they call them “accidents.” What we do know is that you are six times more likely to be injured in a car accident if you’re not wearing a seat belt.
Human nature tells us people will do things when they know there are consequences if they don’t. In Minnesota, those consequences for not wearing seat belts are fines and fees that can cost more than $100. It can also lead to higher car insurance premiums. The fear of those consequences is clearly the difference between the Minnesotans who wear their seat belts, and the North Dakotans who don’t. We need consequences like that in North Dakota, so we can save some lives.