North Dakota Texting While Driving Citations Cost Taxpayers Over $4,000 Each


imageBack in April I wrote about North Dakota law enforcement agencies engaging in “high intensity” enforcement of the state’s new prohibition on texting while driving. The effort, coinciding with Distracted Driving Awareness Month, was funded by a $459,000 grant from the federal government.

What did the taxpayers get for the money? Just over 100 citations, costing taxpayers $4,026 per citation.

Just to be clear about what that represents, the taxpayers paid over $4,000 per ticket written in a campaign against something that is a factor in less than 1 percent of North Dakota crashes.

Does that sound like tax dollars well spent?


I wrote about it over at

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota law enforcement agencies got a $459,000 federal grant for “high intensity” enforcement of the state’s new prohibition on texting while driving.

What did the taxpayers get for their money? Just 114 citations statewide at a cost of more than $4,000 per ticket written, according to the N.D. Department of Transportation

Here’s the facts on how cell phone use in cars impacts crashes in North Dakota:

Law enforcement reported 18,356 crashes on North Dakota roads in 2012, according to Jamie Olson of the NDDOT. Of that number, cell phone use was a “contributing factor” in just 165 crashes, less than one percent of the total. Even if added to an additional 36 crashes attributed to the use of non-phone electronic devices such as GPS units and DVD players, the crash total rises to just 201 crashes — or 1.09 percent of all crashes.

By comparison, distractions in the car — such as eating or interacting with other passengers — contributed to 660 total crashes.

That state number for distraction by cell phones jibes with national statistics. Cell phone use was a factor in just 1.2 percent of fatal crashes and 0.98 percent of all crashes, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s Distracted Driving report from 2012, the latest year for which data is available.

Law enforcement did get one side benefit. Pulling people over because they were apparently texting and driving allowed them to search vehicles and arrest drivers for a lot of other infractions:

The citations for texting did garner law enforcement a side benefit. According to the Associated Press, “Officials say the traffic stops for texting drivers last month also netted numerous other citations and arrests, including for warrants, drunken driving and possession of drugs.”

I suppose supporters of this policy my jump on the idea that texting while driving gives cops probable cause to arrest people for other, more serious infractions. But that’s a pretty poor justification for a law. If a ban on texting while driving doesn’t make our roads safer, if it’s just fad legislation that gives cops an excuse to gobble up federal grants and send out press releases, are we really accomplishing anything?