I really like Governor Doug Burgum. I’ve heard some throw out descriptions that label him a “maverick” of sorts. And it’s true. But his stance on seat belt laws, as reported yesterday, is simply awful.
Burgum was in attendance at the State Capitol with “directors of the state Department of Transportation, the Highway Patrol and the Health Department” to unveil a new “traffic safety initiative” known as “Vision Zero“.
According to the Vision Zero website, this is the Mission and Goal of the initiative:
“Our mission is to establish a culture of personal responsibility behind the wheel, where motor vehicle fatalities and injuries are recognized as preventable and no longer tolerated as acceptable. This multi-agency partnership continually works toward a goal of zero motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries on North Dakota roads.”
The goal of this initiative to have “zero motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries” is about as realistic as President George W. Bush’s 100% proficiency expectation in his awful education legislation known as “No Child Left Behind”– it simply didn’t work.
While rolling out the new Vision Zero initiative, Burgum expressed his support for making North Dakota’s seat belt laws a matter of primary enforcement, instead of secondary enforcement.
As the law stands now, all front seat occupants must wear a seat belt, but can only be fined for failure to do so if they are pulled over for another infraction. All those 18 years of age and older are not required to wear a seat belt in back seats. Those under 18 are governed by an entirely different set of laws.
Just one example of why the Vision Zero initiative is unrealistic can be found in the tragic case of a 90-year old man from Fordville, ND just last month. According to the Grand Forks Herald:
“The 90-year-old driver of a 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup was westbound at 8:30 a.m. on Ramsey County Road 2 when the vehicle spun out of control on icy roads about 3 miles east of Crary, according to a news release from the North Dakota Highway Patrol. The vehicle went off the road and overturned in the ditch.
“The unnamed driver was wearing his seat belt but died at the scene.”
As you can see, no amount of seat belt laws saved this gentleman’s life. There’s no government initiative that can result in “zero motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries”. It’s simply illogical. Why? Because the realities of an imperfect world, with all kinds of variables that cannot be controlled, make it so.
Burgum says that he’s “had a chance to meet with a number of North Dakota Highway Patrolmen” and that he hasn’t “met one who didn’t think [primary enforcement] was a great idea”. I mean no disrespect, but would we expect anything else from them? It’s akin to asking housing developers in the Bakken oil field if man camps should be eliminated.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wear my seat belt. But I don’t wear it because of some arbitrary law passed by the Almighty State. I wear it because statistically I’m safer by doing so.
Burgum is right. This is an issue of “personal responsibility”. But that doesn’t mean the government should attempt to use the heavy hand of enforcement to make us be responsible.
As I often like to do, let’s put this to the test of the proper role of government. Do we, as individuals, have the right to pull some random person over on the road, when we see them not wearing a seat belt, and demand they pay us a fine for their failure to act responsibly? The short answer is… no.
And if we don’t have that power as individuals, then we logically cannot empower the government to do it on our behalf. Doing so is an usurpation of power on the part of our elected representatives.
The argument goes that this is a “public safety” issue. I’ve heard arguments as ridiculous as an occupant not wearing their seat belt might fly through the windshield and hit someone else. Others take the angle that injuries sustained from not wearing seat belts results in higher health care costs for everyone.
America is also the most obese country in the world. Imagine what that does to our health care industry. Is it time to ban things like donuts, cheeseburgers, and soda pop? After all, it’s what’s best for us… right? Or maybe we should have weight checkpoints that also gauge body mass index. You ate too many twinkie’s… well, pay up. Sounds ridiculous, right? Because it is. Just like thinking the State should have a roll in making adults wear seat belts.
The Vision Zero initiative is nothing more than a feel good way of trying to show that the government is doing something. When in reality, it will not only prove to be unrealistic, but it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and a horrible violation of an individual’s personal Liberty.
The owner/operator of a vehicle should be the one to determine whether its occupants be required to wear seat belts or not. And as a passenger in a vehicle, if we don’t like the fact someone else in that vehicle has chose not to wear their seat belt, then we are free to find another ride.
Governor Burgum needs to find better things to do with his time and taxpayer resources. When he gave us the vision of “reinventing” government, I didn’t envision more draconian laws. That’s not reinventing government. That’s just giving us more of the same.
Having said that, buckle up. Not because the governor or a guy with a badge wants you to, but because statistically it might just save your life.