Every year, approximately 100 people in North Dakota die from motor vehicle crashes. This January alone, 13 people have died from motor vehicle crashes in North Dakota. Of those fatalities, at least 36% were not belted at the time of the crash (data is preliminary and subject to change until final crash reports are submitted to NDDOT). That’s 13 families whose lives will never be the same again.

North Dakota has a statewide strategy to eliminate motor vehicle crash fatalities and serious injuries. Ask yourself, “How many motor vehicle crash fatalities are acceptable in North Dakota?” When you think about that question for a little bit, your answer is likely the same as mine: ZERO.

One way to meet Vision Zero’s goal to eliminate vehicle deaths and serious injuries in North Dakota is by encouraging communities to implement seat belt use. Even though a majority of North Dakotan’s favor wearing a seat belt (83.7%), it is those who do not wear seat belts who are much more likely to lose their life in a crash. A Primary Seat Belt Law (SB 2121) would allow law enforcement officers to cite a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place. Officers say this is not about writing tickets but about helping people realize how important it is to wear one.

Law enforcement are the first responders to traffic crashes, and they have told North Dakota communities repeatedly how important it is to buckle up. They know more than anyone how much of a difference wearing a seat belt makes when crashes happen.

Seatbelts protect you by…

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  • Keeping you in the vehicle.
  • Spreading the force of impact over a large area and the strongest part of the body.
  • Allowing your body to slow down gradually, lessening the impact on internal organs.
  • Preventing impact with the interior of the vehicle.
  • Preventing collision with other occupants of the vehicle.
  • Preventing trauma to the brain and spinal cord caused by sudden change in motion.

Though zero deaths may seem like a lofty goal, I believe we can achieve it by working together and taking personal responsibility as a driver and vehicle occupant. Start by telling your family why it is important to wear a seat belt and set an example of what it means to be a good driver. That also includes transporting children in the appropriate child passenger safety seats, driving sober and distraction-free, and obeying all posted speed limits. Let’s keep our families, our community, and North Dakota safe.

Ryan Gellner, West Fargo, is program manager for North Dakota Association of Counties Vision Zero Outreach.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.