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Commentary: It's about time for a primary seat belt law in N.D.

Congratulations to the North Dakota Highway Patrol and Gov. Doug Burgum for pushing for a primary seat belt law...

--It's about time. The state's secondary law is a failure. Too many North Dakotans are dying because they didn't put on their seat belts. Last year, 61 percent of those who died in North Dakota motor vehicle accidents were unbelted. That's dozens of people who should be alive today.

There's no dispute that seat belts work. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they save about 14,000 lives a year. There's also no dispute that primary laws motivate people. When drivers know they will be ticketed and fined for not wearing a seat belt, they will wear them. According to Wikipedia, only 74.8 percent of North Dakota drivers buckle up, while in neighboring Minnesota, where it's a primary law, 92.3 percent of motorists wear them.

The trouble in North Dakota is that too many people have a mindset that we don't like being told what to do, even if it could save our lives. We want the "freedom" to make stupid and dangerous decisions.

Ed Gruchalla of Fargo, was a North Dakota state trooper for 25 years, and covered dozens of fatal accidents, where the drivers would have survived if they just wore their seat belts.

"Any time you pick dead bodies out of a ditch, you get a feeling of defeat," Gruchalla said. "You work so hard enforcing traffic laws and then you get so frustrated because people are dying because they're not wearing their seat belts. People think it will never happen to them."

Here's an alarming statistic from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: People not wearing a seat belt are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash. More than 3 out of 4 people who are ejected die from their injuries.

There are names behind these statistics. Names like 17-year-old Sreejon Lala of Fargo, a former student at Davies High School. The North Dakota Highway Patrol says Sreejon was driving on 88th Avenue South when he failed to negotiate a curve, vaulted off the road, went down a small embankment and hit a large tree head on. Sreejon was not wearing a seat belt, thrown from the car, and died at the scene.

He was the only child of Rajib and Jolly Lala. His many friends said Sreejon was funny, friendly, smart and charming. Two of his friends were my twin daughters. It was the first time they ever lost a friend, and they were deeply affected.

"Sreejon always wore his seat belt, so we don't know what happened," a grieving Jolly said. "Everyone should wear seat belts. It should be a primary law."

Too many North Dakota families are mourning the losses of a child, sibling, parent or friend because they exercised their "freedom" when we failed to strongly protect them.