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North Dakota senator proposes 80 mph speed limits for interstates

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BISMARCK — Motorists in North Dakota would be able to go a little faster on interstates under a bill introduced by a state lawmaker.

Lonnie Laffen, a Republican state senator from Grand Forks, prefiled legislation to increase the speed limit on “access-controlled, paved and divided, multi-lane interstate highways” to 80 mph from 75 mph. He said it’s an effort to allow drivers to be more efficient on the roads, and pointed out vehicles have become safer over time.

“I think we can handle it now,” Laffen said in a Wednesday, Dec. 28, interview. He’s the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The North Dakota Legislature will convene Jan. 3.

The bill comes about 13 years after North Dakota increased the interstate speed limit to 75 mph from 70 mph. Laffen’s bill would only affect interstates 94 and 29, he said, and cities would still be able to reduce the limit within their borders.

Fargo Sen. Carolyn Nelson, the lone Democrat on the Transportation Committee, said she’d be willing to look at the legislation, but said she said lawmakers should look into stiffer fines for speeders.

“It’s ridiculous what we charge for penalties,” Nelson said.

Speeding fines in North Dakota increase the higher a driver goes over the speed limit. For a highway with a speed limit above 65 mph, a driver is fined $5 for each mile per hour over the limit, according to state law.

But Laffen said increasing speeding fines typically doesn’t go far in the North Dakota Legislature.

Lt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said they “would have issues with something that’s going to make our highways more unsafe.” He added they haven’t had a “hard look” at the facts behind the proposal.

“I have a hard time believing that raising the speed limit would make for a safer roadway,” Iverson said.

About 30 percent to 40 percent of all fatal crashes in North Dakota are speed-related, according to the Highway Patrol.

Laffen pointed out neighboring states have increased the interstate speed limit in recent years. South Dakota’s went to 80 mph last year, as did Montana’s.

It “seems to be working in neighboring states,” Laffen said.

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.  

(701) 255-5607
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