BISMARCK — Arguments in favor of preserving personal freedom prevailed over safety concerns during a North Dakota House debate on a bill tightening the state's seat belt enforcement Thursday, March 7.

Senate Bill 2060 failed in a 54-38 vote after a spirited and occasionally personal discussion Thursday.

The bill would have repealed North Dakota's law requiring police officers to have other grounds to pull over a driver for being unbuckled. North Dakota is one of 15 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 seat belt enforcement for minors throughout a vehicle.

Opponents of the bill acknowledged that seat belts save lives but questioned whether the change would prompt many more people to buckle up.

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"Should we continue to erode our freedoms of choice by making this a primary offense, and if we do make it a primary offense, will it actually make any substantial difference in the compliance rate for seat belt usage?" said Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield.

Grand Forks Republican Rep. Mark Owens said the change could help police catch drunk drivers disputed personal freedom arguments offered by the bill's detractors.

"Seat belts do matter," he said. "We ... are constantly are passing laws to do what's best for the general welfare of the citizens of North Dakota."

The bill would have also increased fines from $20 to $50 and require that adults wear seat belts in both the front and back seats.

People were unbuckled in roughly half of North Dakota's 77 motor vehicle fatalities in which a seat belt was available in 2018, according to the state Department of Transportation. The state's seat belt use rate of 79.3 percent in 2017 was about 10 percentage points below the national figure, according to federal statistics.

Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, voiced support for a primary seat belt law while introducing his administration's "Vision Zero" traffic safety initiative a year ago.

The Senate narrowly approved the bill in January in a redo vote.