Bill Would Tighten and Simplify North Dakota’s Distracted Driving Laws


Despite sensational media coverage and celebrity-backed advertising campaigns, distracted driving probably isn’t as big a problem as you think it is.

According to data I collected last year, from 2010 to 2015 traffic accidents caused by distractions from electronic devices accounted for just 1.1 percent of all crashes in the state. Even in the distracted driving category, over 83 percent of crashes are caused by distractions from sources other an electronics inside the car.

Still, using your cell phone while driving probably isn’t the best decision. Which is why the Legislature has put on the book some restrictions to using electronics while driving. You can read the current law in section 39-08-23 of the North Dakota Century Code.

But if you do read that chapter you’ll be able to tell that it’s a little kludgy. Before the 2017 legislature, however, is a new bill which repeals that old section of code and replaces it with something much simpler.

The legislation is HB1430, sponsored by Rep. Corey Mock, a Democrat from Grand Forks. Here’s the pertinent excerpt:

This language would define distracted driving in such a way as to exclude the operation of any built-in electronics, including some of the elaborate touch-screen systems newer cars have. It would also exclude the operation of any device as long as you don’t have to take your eyes from the road to do it.

Presumably this would mean talking on your cell phone but not necessarily dialing it.

Which seems reasonable enough, I suppose, particularly as voice-control technology for cell phones gets better all the time (that’s how I text while driving).

But I still don’t understand how we can draw some of these distinctions. Are we really saying, in the law, that running someone over because you were fooling around with your built-in entertainment or navigation systems is a different sort of situation from running someone over because you were fooling around with your cell phone?

That seems a distinction without a difference, and one we’re making more to placate public outcry created by the aforementioned media sensationalism and celebrity activism than to satisfy any real world policy need. We already have laws against negligent, reckless driving.

Why not just enforce those?

Here’s the full bill. It’s been referred to the House Transportation Committee but not yet scheduled for a hearing.

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