A vote Tuesday, Feb. 2, put an end to dueling seat belt bills in the North Dakota Legislature.
House Bill 1257 failed, 66-28, in a vote in the state House of Representatives.
Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, introduced the bill, which would eliminate mandatory seat belt use for anyone 18 and older.
The House Transportation Committee gave the bill a Do Pass recommendation by a vote of 8-6.
Magrum’s proposal was a response to Senate Bill 2121, introduced by Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston.
SB 2121 would make it easier to enforce existing seat belt laws by making not wearing a seat belt a primary traffic violation. Under current law, it’s a secondary violation, meaning a driver can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, but can’t be pulled over only for it.
The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 20, and will go up for debate in the House later this session.
“The bill had its inception from the Vision Zero coalition attempting to bring vehicle fatalities and injuries down in North Dakota,” Bekkedahl told the Williston Herald. “They asked me before the session to be the prime sponsor and I agreed because I want to save lives anywhere possible. Based on other states that have passed legislation going from secondary enforcement to primary enforcement, it is anticipated we will increase our seat belt usage from 84%, one of the lowest in the country, to 95%. This level of increased usage would save up to five lives a year from our current highway death toll.”
In 2020, 42 drivers who died were not wearing seat belts; 19 of those who were wearing seat belts died.
“The Vision Zero coalition made this change in law a priority because with today’s technology of seat belts and airbags working together, increasing usage made the biggest impact to reducing highway deaths,” Bekkedahl said. “But airbags don’t work without seat belts keeping the occupant in the vehicle. There is science to saving lives at work here. In testimony, the Highway Patrol said they do not want the bill to increase seat belt violation stops. They know just by passing the bill, more people will comply and save lives.”
The goal of saving lives is more important than more traffic stops, Bekkedahl said, and he amended the bill to make that clear.
“The original bill also had a penalty provision increasing the fine from the current $20 to $50 for a violation,” he said. “I presented an amendment to the bill in committee to remove that provision and keep the fine at $20 because I felt it was important to stress the need to have more seat belt usage and not have the debate be about higher fines and generating more revenue to the enforcement system. The amendment was accepted on the Senate floor and the fine remains at $20 per violation.”
Bekkedahl is hopeful for the bill’s chances, even though similar proposals have failed.
“In the Senate, we increased the number of senators supporting the bill from 24 last session to 29 this session,” he said. “There is an increasing realization that this can save lives.”