BISMARCK, N.D. - Lawmakers in the North Dakota House killed a bill Thursday that would allow law enforcement to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt.
After more than 25 minutes of debate, House Bill 1335 was defeated by a 52-40 vote. Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said HB1335 would allow law enforcement to ticket a driver or front-seat passenger for not wearing a seat belt without any other traffic offense having taken place.
Ticketing a driver without a previous traffic offense is known as a primary seat belt law. North Dakota is one of 17 states with secondary seat belt laws, which require drivers to be pulled over for another traffic offense before they can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt.
Weisz said law enforcement stops drivers for public safety issues. He said wearing a seat belt is a personal safety issue and a choice. Weisz urged House members to “leave our state’s laws the way they are.”
Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, spoke in favor of the bill. Owens was a sponsor of HB1335. He said the medical costs and lost work due to deaths on the nation’s highways amount to tens of billions of dollars annually. Owens added that 55 percent of the fatalities on North Dakota roads in 2012 were people who weren’t wearing seat belts.
“Driving is not a right. It’s not just (about) you,” Owens said.
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, agreed with Owens that driving is not a right.
“But it is a freedom,” Becker said. “We can control all kinds of decisions citizens make if we want to go down that road.”
To make his point in a more lighthearted fashion, Becker also quoted a song lyric from the 1980 song by Devo, “Freedom of Choice”:
“A victim of collision on the open sea/Nobody ever said that life was free/Sank, swam, go down with the ship/But use your freedom of choice.”
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, echoed Becker’s point about making more and more of the public’s individual choices for them. He said if freedom of choice were eroded, in time the government could be saying “what color to paint our house, what kind of car we drive, what kind of furniture we can have in our house.”
Rep. Curtiss Kreun, R-Grand Forks, urged his legislative colleagues to consider those with serious injuries as a result of making the choice not to buckle up. He said any reduction in the number of fatalities on North Dakota roads was a positive.
“We could prevent two or three of those per year, that would have a good impact,” Kreun said.