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Changing behaviors through increased traffic fees

The Interim Transportation Committee of Sixty-third Legislative Assembly of North Dakota voted Aug. 22 to send a bill draft to the 2013 Legislative Session relating to the penalties for violating speed limits. Under the bill, fees will be brought more into line with those fees assessed in South Dakota or Minnesota.

The current disparity between North Dakota fees and those imposed in South Dakota or Minnesota can be explained in the following comparisons. A person driving thirteen miles an hour over the speed limit in a residential neighborhood in North Dakota would be assessed a fee of $13. The same violation in South Dakota would garner a fee of $110. In Minnesota, the fee would be $125.

The proposed changes to current North Dakota statute include a fee of $20 be added to all speeding violations. In addition, a graduated fee structure based on how many miles per hour over the speed limit the person was traveling would be used to establish what the total fee would be. A similar tiered fee structure is currently being used in North Dakota.

On the residential roadway passing in front of your home the current scale places the fee at $5 for one to five miles per hour over the limit. The new scale would change to $2 for each mile over the limit. Five mile per hour over would be $10 plus the $20 fee for a total $30. Fifteen miles per hour over the limit presently is $15. With the proposed change, $15 over would be $60 plus the $20 fee for a total of $80, which would still be below the fee assessed for the same violation in South Dakota or Minnesota as noted above.

Raising the fees is meant to cause drivers to re-evaluate the consequence of breaking the law. A driver bases their driving behavior on a risk assessment of the current conditions and the possible consequences. If other vehicles are present on the roadway; the area is unfamiliar; or the roadway surface is ice covered a driver tends to slow down. If the person believes their violation will be detected by a law enforcement officer; that they may be stopped for that violation; and the punishment is more than the driver is willing to accept the driver will more readily follow the law.

Many of the fees presently in statute have not changed since they were established in the 60's or early 70's. Using an inflation calculator to determine the relative value of $20 from 1973 places the value in a range from $80 to over $200. In 2011 it would take $101 to purchase the same commodity that could be purchased in 1973 for twenty dollars. The present fee structure no longer carries the same deterrent factor it once did. A driver may be willing to accept the risk of associated with violating the law if the perceived consequence is small enough. If more drivers were to modify their behavior by slowing down, obeying the rules of the road and usingtheir seatbelts North Dakota could achieve the goal of zero traffic fatalities in North Dakota.