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North Dakota lawmaker’s bill protects drivers who negligently hit someone obstructing traffic

Route 1806, which runs alongside the Oceti Sakowin camp, is seen as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Reuters)

January 17, 2017

A lawmaker in North Dakota sponsored a bill that would reportedly protect drivers who inadvertently hit pedestrians blocking traffic.

The Star Tribune reported Monday that the legislation is a response to protests at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, and sponsored by state Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman.

“If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue,” he told the paper. “Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road….Those people didn’t ask to be in this.”

Kempenich told the paper that the law’s intent is to shift the blame from the driver to the person who was in the road who should not have legally been there. According to the report, Kempenich said he was concerned about panicked drivers who see a mob of protesters coming in their direction and hit the gas instead of the brake.

“You can protest all you want, but you can’t protest up on a roadway. It’s dangerous for everybody,” he told the paper.

The protest at Standing Rock is against a project that will transport North Dakota oil 1,200 miles through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. Construction is nearly complete outside of a stretch under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota.

The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes are fighting the pipeline because the tribes believe it threatens drinking water – both use the lake for that – and cultural sites. ETP disputes that and maintains the pipeline will be safe.

Opponents have protested for months in southern North Dakota, with nearly 600 arrests since August. The protests have cost North Dakota law enforcement an estimated $22 million, the report said.