The second stretch of the North Dakota Legislative session began its first full week on March 7. Three hundred fifty six bills and resolutions have passed to the Senate from the House. Many have wide public interest. The "Fighting Sioux" nickname, graduated drivers license and distracted driving bills are some being heard in my committees over the next few weeks.
HB 1190 and HB 1195 relate to the issue of the distracted driver. It is common for anyone traveling our roads to see people behind the wheel talking on cell phones, probably text messaging, eating or even reading the newspaper. Any number of bad habits and electronic equipment can impair concentration. The driver is often so busy with other things, steering the vehicle seems to be the distraction.
The two bills look to solve the problem with higher fines, demerit points and loss of driving privilege. Punitive measures have an impact on changing habits. But it seems to me, starting to list all bad driving habits and then passing laws aimed at stopping each specific activity isn't the best approach.
All those bad practices can cause us to drive in a way that is careless or even reckless. One time it maybe the cell phone, the next it's the French fry we are trying to get from the bottom of the bag. The list could get very long.
In my mind, what we are trying to stop is the result of the distraction. Weaving into the passing lane, rear ending the car in front, hitting a pedestrian are the untoward events caused by the distracted driver.
Laws currently on the books, such as care required, include fines and demerit points. It is a moving violation and primary offense for a driver. As defined, it includes much of what HB 1190 and HB 1195 are trying to accomplish. Broadening the definition of the care required statute, with enhanced enforcement would be my choice for dealing with the distracted driver.