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Dave Roepke, Published January 25 2011

Are your roads safe? Group says North Dakota traffic laws inadequate

Another national group has ranked North Dakota as having some of the least adequate traffic laws in the U.S., while giving far higher marks to Minnesota.

Only South Dakota has fewer of the 15 safety laws included in a state-by-state report released Monday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

South Dakota has three of the 15 laws, and North Dakota has four – not including the partial credit it was given for its child-seat regulations.

The study gave Minnesota credit for having 10 of the 15 laws and portions of an 11th, faring better than all but 12 other states.

In the eight years the annual overview has been done, North Dakota has always ranked near the bottom, said Judie Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – a group funded by the insurance industry.

“Every state thinks they’re different. But the people who drive the cars aren’t different,” she said. “We see it as a public health epidemic.”

A similar study released in November by a nursing group ranked North Dakota as having the nation’s worst traffic-safety laws.

Laws considered in Monday’s study included those concerning seat belts, text messaging, teenage drivers, impaired drivers and motorcyclist helmets.

Minnesota, for instance, allows police to pull over a driver for not wearing a seat belt. Seat-belt use is required in North Dakota, but an officer can’t stop a vehicle solely on that basis.

When the seat-belt law in Minnesota switched in 2009 from secondary to primary enforcement, the change in belt usage was clear, said Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol.

“Oh, big time,” he said.

North Dakota legislators will begin debate later this week on two of the traffic laws the report deemed the state to be lacking: graduated teen driver’s licenses and a ban on texting while operating a vehicle.

An organized coalition is backing the teen licensing bill, said supporter Gene LaDoucer, a spokesman for AAA North Dakota.

LaDoucer said the license proposal – HB 1256 – will get its first hearing Friday morning, while the texting bills – HB 1190 and HB 1195 – are slated for hearings on Thursday.

He’s optimistic about the prospects for the licensing bill, but LaDoucer said the text bans would likely have to ride strong public support. Surveys have found texting bans are favored by upwards of 90 percent of respondents, he said.

“If one of those bills passes, it’s because of the public outcry,” he said.

Changing seat-belt law to allow primary enforcement is unlikely, he said.

“Lawmakers aren’t lining up in support,” he said. “They view it as legislating behavior by adults.”

Traffic laws lacking

Here are the traffic laws North Dakota and Minnesota are missing, according to a study by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535