BISMARCK — The number of deaths on North Dakota roads is outpacing last year's tally as the summer travel season approaches, state officials said Thursday, May 23.
There were 33 deaths recorded as of Wednesday, up from 22 at that point last year, according to data published by the state's multi-agency traffic safety initiative Vision Zero. But this year's total is down from the first months of 2017, when there were 42 reported traffic deaths.
Notably, people were not wearing seat belts in nearly 70% of the applicable traffic deaths so far this year. The state said failing to wear a seat belt remains the leading "contributing factor" in motor vehicle crash fatalities.
State legislators this year rejected efforts to tighten seat belt enforcement by repealing North Dakota's law requiring police officers to have other grounds to pull over unbuckled drivers.
Backers argued the change would boost seat belt use and save lives, but opponents viewed it as an infringement on personal freedoms.
North Dakota is one of more than a dozen states with a secondary seat belt law for adults in a vehicle's front seats, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. State law allows for primary enforcement of seat belt use for minors throughout the vehicle, however.
North Dakota's seat belt use rate of 79.3% was about 10 percentage points below the national figure in 2017, according to federal statistics.
There were 13 deaths in alcohol-related crashes so far this year, the state reported. Eight deaths were recorded in crashes in which excessive speed was a factor.
The state highlighted the fatal crash figures ahead of Memorial Day weekend, which is known as the unofficial launch of summer. It also came amid a "Click it or Ticket" campaign, in which North Dakota receives federal money to boost patrols.
In a statement, Sgt. Wade Kadrmas of the state Highway Patrol urged travelers to accept "personal responsibility" for their safety.