When Governor Doug Burgum rolled out his traffic safety initiative known as “Vision Zero” in January of 2018, we published an article in which I suggested that the goal of the initiative was “illogical”. In case you’re unfamiliar with them, the stated mission and goal at the time read:
“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.”
In a sense, the initiative also became a catalyst of sorts for changing North Dakota’s seat belt laws. While rolling out Vision Zero, Governor Burgum also expressed his support for moving North Dakota from secondary enforcement of adult seat belt laws to primary enforcement. By December of 2018, five Republicans and a lone Democrat were proposing legislation to make the change a reality during the 2019 Legislative Session.
While the attempt at primary enforcement ultimately failed in the House, it wasn’t before the bill had some interesting moments. It had first failed in the Senate on a 23-23 vote, but was later brought back because one of its sponsors was absent. It then passed 24-23 upon reconsideration, with one Senator advocating for its passage on the basis that North Dakotans should be treated like children. Aside from interesting, the debate was extensive.
On Vision Zero’s current website, you’ll find this statement:
“The goal of zero fatalities is not only attainable, but also vital.”
I can’t help but wonder if supporters of the initiative honestly believe this? Or is it truly just another feel good way of trying to show that the government is doing something?
In May of this year, The Forum’s John Hageman reported that fatal crashes were up in comparison to 2018. A current look at the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s (NDDOT) website shows this to still be the case. Year to date totals for 2019 are at 65, as opposed to 60 at this point in 2018.
What’s interesting about 2018 is that it was hailed as a year with the lowest number of traffic deaths in a decade— a statistic that the NDDOT credited to the education taking place as a result of Vision Zero. But if 2019 ends with more fatalities than 2018, will they take the blame for the increase? Or will it be someone else’s fault? Can they have it both ways? They shouldn’t. But let’s remember— this is the government we’re talking about here.
Furthermore, if we look at the numbers going back to 2008 (pg. 7 of 24), consider the Bakken Oil Boom, and look at fatality rates — which are measured per 100 million miles traveled — we find that trends were already going downward before Vision Zero was ever a thing.
Look, nobody likes fatalities on North Dakota’s roadways. I most certainly agree that “every life matters”. But saying that “zero fatalities” is “attainable” is just plain ridiculous. After all, let’s not forget that all of us are humans, who are prone to all the frailties and imperfections that go with being such. As long as there’s a human element to travel, we’ll always have fatalities.
In short, some folks need to stop pretending that the Vision Zero strategy will eliminate motor vehicle fatalities. And beyond this, we must never allow the goal of Vision Zero to become a political vehicle of sorts by which certain lawmakers justify infringing upon the rights of those who travel.
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