ND distracted driving campaign cost taxpayers more than $4,000 per ticket


By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

COSTLY ENFORCEMENT: A campaign of “high intensity” enforcement of North Dakota’s ban on texting while driving funded by a federal grant netted 114 offenders costing taxpayers over $4,000 each.

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

Policies prohibiting cell phone use in cars are often justified by calls for safer roads. Yet according to data from North Dakota and the nation, cell phones contribute to few crashes.

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.

In North Dakota a cell phone being a contributing factor doesn’t mean it was the causing factor. “Up to three contributing factors are recorded for each vehicle involved in the crash by law enforcement,” Olson said in an email to Watchdog.

Cell phone use was named a contributing factor to crashes far less often than other factors, such as other passengers in the car or eating.

Here’s a breakdown of distracted driving crashes by contributing factor in 2012.

  • Attention distracted with an electronic communication device, such as a phone: 165 total crashes
  • Attention distracted inside vehicle — eating, kids in the backseat: 660 total crashes
  • Attention distracted other electronic device — DVD player, tablet, etc.: 36 total crashes
  • Attention distracted outside vehicle — such as another crash: 412 total crashes

“Adding these numbers together would not give a total number of distracted driving crashes, as one crash could have multiple factors,” Olson said.

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.”

Rob Port can be reached at rport@watchdog.org