BISMARCK — A bipartisan group of North Dakota lawmakers wants to allow police to pull over a vehicle if the driver or any passengers are not wearing seat belts.

Prior efforts to tighten the state's seat-belt laws have been flunked repeatedly in the Republican-led Legislature, with many opponents saying personal freedoms should protect those who reject the safety feature.

The state currently has a secondary enforcement law, which means drivers over 18 can't be pulled over solely for not wearing a seat belt. They can be issued a ticket for being unbuckled, but only if an officer pulls them over for a separate offense.

If the proposal, Senate Bill 2121, passes this time, drivers could be pulled over and fined $50 if anyone in their vehicle is not wearing a seat belt. North Dakota is one of just 15 states without a primary enforcement seat-belt law, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

A survey taken last year by the state Department of Transportation found that only about 84% of North Dakota drivers and passengers wear seat belts. Women in the state are 11% more likely to wear seat belts than men, the survey found.

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Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said he's co-sponsoring the bill because it could have "a measurable effect" on preventing traffic deaths in the state. Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a car accident by 45%, according to a 2015 study.

Corey Mock
Corey Mock

Mock said the current law on the books from 1993 was intended to solve the enforcement issue of officers pulling over vehicles for seat-belt violations only to discover passengers were wearing lap belts. Since all cars are now made with shoulder belts, Mock said the policy should be updated.

The Grand Forks lawmaker acknowledged there will be some hurdles in getting the law passed since some of his colleagues have already staked their flag in opposition during previous legislative sessions. At the very least, Mock said he hopes the renewed public discussion of seat belts will be a chance to educate the public on the issue.

The bill's lead sponsor, Williston Republican Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A hearing on the bill has not yet been announced.

Contact Jeremy Turley at jturley@forumcomm.com or on Twitter at @jeremyjturley