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Mike Nowatzki, Published February 01 2014

ND among worst states for highway safety laws

BISMARCK – North Dakota and 10 other states rate as the worst in the nation when it comes to adopting basic highway safety laws, a nonprofit lobbying group says.

Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released its 11th annual report card grading all 50 states and the District of Columbia on whether they have adopted 15 “lifesaving” laws related to impaired and distracting driving, teen driving and protecting vehicle occupants.

States received a red “dangerously behind” rating if they had adopted fewer than seven of the laws and lacked primary-enforcement seat belt laws for both front and rear passengers.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana all fell into that lowest category, along with Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Wyoming.

Catherine Chase, the group’s vice president for governmental affairs, said the report’s purpose isn’t to put states in a bad light but rather to motivate lawmakers.

“We’re hoping that it provides an impetus to actually get some action. … Because the end result is to save lives and prevent injuries, and we know that these laws work,” she said.

Chase pointed out that the number of traffic fatalities in North Dakota jumped from 148 in 2011 to 170 in 2012, a 15 percent increase. However, the number of fatalities dropped back down to 148 in 2013, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The lobbying group recommends North Dakota adopt eight laws, half of which relate to a graduated driver licensing program for teenagers. They include setting a minimum age of 16 for obtaining a learner’s permit – North Dakota allows it at age 14 – and limiting the number of teenage passengers who can ride with a teen driver without adult supervision.

The group also recommends prohibiting teen drivers under age 18 from obtaining an unrestricted license. North Dakota makes it available at age 16.