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ND Senate passes bill expanding distracted driving laws

BISMARCK—North Dakota senators agreed to expand the state's distracted driving laws Monday, March 20.

The Senate passed House Bill 1430, introduced by House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, in a 37-9 vote. It passed the House last month.

Under the bill, a driver could be cited and fined $100 for distracted driving if he or she commits a traffic offense or is involved in an accident while distracted. The bill defines distracted driving as doing something that's not necessary to operate the vehicle and impairs the ability of the driver to safely operate the car.

Mock said eating a cheeseburger while driving wouldn't necessarily be distracted driving, but doing so while running a red light would be. In the latter scenario, a driver could face citations for both offenses.

"Distracted driving is not a primary offense, it's a secondary offense," said Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga. "You have to commit some other violation or be involved in an accident in order to be cited for distracted driving."

Current North Dakota law makes it illegal to use a "wireless communications device" to compose, read or send an electronic message while driving, and texting while driving would still be illegal under House Bill 1430. But Mock pointed to federal data showing that of the 904,000 "distraction-affected" crashes in 2013, only 71,000 involved cell phone use.

"It's just recognizing that driving is inherently dangerous and there are other things that can divert your attention from driving," he said.

Lt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said "any bill that would promote and enhance highway safety would be something that we'd be in favor of." In the case of Mock's bill, Iverson said it would be a good way to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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