In the past three weeks, we have had a series of seemingly bizarre legisla-tive debate in the state of North Dakota, including but not limited to; forcing your computer to be labeled as an adult video device, a tax in-crease from a governor who promised no new taxes, and last but not least, the ability to literally run people over on roads with no liability.
Yes, you are reading that last one correctly. We could potentially live in a state which is less strict about running over pedestrians than the game Grand Theft Auto.
Clearly, this law is bi-zarre, but it shows a con-cerning trend across all states highlighting how supermajorities (Congress dominated by one political party) are a nightmare for the public. As legislators lose the necessity to argue with the opposing political party, they get increasingly radical in their laws, lead-ing to a runaway feedback loop in which one bad idea gets through committee as a result of partisan politics rather than common sense.
Traditionally, a legis-lature is supposed to have some opposition in repre-sentative democracies, with each political party having some influence over the crafting of policy, whether that be objections in committee or the ability to filibuster until a certain threshold of support is met. However legislatures with supermajorities have no such checks on the power. Legislators of the same political party are naturally disinclined to object to laws written by members of the same party, as it’s the party leaders that determine political appointments and advancements, and the stigma of becoming a maverick can kill a political career before it has ever really begun. Unfortunately, this is the reality when a singular party is, for all intents and purposes, the only party whose opinion matters.
When compared to legislatures that are mixed, we see a greater tendency to go against the grain due to the decreased liability of opposing the party, as one begins to see three factions emerge the closer the legislature is split; from Party A versus Party B to Party A versus Moderates versus Party B.
There is no better example in this state of the decline of the moderates than the “run over pedestrians” law which is set to be debated soon. At no point should any reasonable person in committee think “This is good, I think this is a great idea.” Instead, it should have pointed out the numerous flaws with creating a law that allows people to play tag with cars.
The law is also clearly rooted in a political agenda to stop the Standing Rock protesters from doing things such as blocking the roads and as a result hindering emergency services, which while itself is not a bad idea objectively, could have been achieved in a much more nuanced way typical of moderate legislation versus extremism.
While I think most people are accepting of the fact that blocking the highway is not a legitimate form of protest, and some protections must be given to drivers who may not be able to bring their vehicle from 80 to 0 mph as a result of ice, this law is like using an M16 to kill a cockroach. Sure you solved the cockroach problem, but you just shot your neighbor’s dog through the wall.
As an example of an alternative, a law could have exempted only emergency services, or added an attempt to stop provision, which waives liability only in cases of emergency, or when an individual makes a good faith attempt to stop their vehicle before hitting the person on the roads, but due to nobody being willing or able to stand up to the party for fear of losing their political power, we instead get this nightmare of a law.
The last two issues we are going to discuss is the unintended consequences of this law of right of way, and pragmatic examples of the dumb laws effect on Grand Forks. In general, the tradition has been that the lower the mobility the higher the degree of right of way.
As an example, if a jetski and an ocean liner are both attempting to go through a tight pass, the ocean liner, being far less maneuverable, has the right of way and the obligation is on the jetski to correct and allow the individual through.
In this new law, the least mobile are the most responsible, as opposed to the opposite. As an intuitive example we can all relate to, I will discuss University Avenue as the poster child for unintended consequences of this law.
If an individual were driving to class, they are now no longer required to yield to you, and they would never have to brake should you be crossing, or attempting to cross the road. When an individual follows the new law inevitably hits someone, not only would they not be responsible for the damage done to that person’s body, they could also make the pedestrian hit pay for the damages to their vehicle.
Legal Disclaimer: I, David Owen am not a lawyer, and any interpretation of the law should not be taken as legal advice, rather the opinion of myself. Such an interpretation may or may not be correct, and the relevant portion of the law is quoted in this article.
I do not recommend or condone any of the above actions, and am not responsible should you attempt one of the actions described below and are faced with damages of any kind, including but not limited to imprisonment or fiscal damages.
I would recommend that you always consult with a lawyer to get the most accurate and up to date interpretations of a law before any action is taken.
Dave Owen is a staff writer for the Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]