Burgum vetoes bill to raise North Dakota interstate speed limit to 80 mph; seat belt bill passes House

The governor cited his administration’s Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic deaths as a reason for his veto.

Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed a bill that would have increased the speed limit on interstate highways in North Dakota from 75 mph to 80 mph.
Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum has rejected a bill that would raise North Dakota’s interstate highway speed limit to 80 mph.

Burgum on Thursday, March 30, announced his veto of House Bill 1475 by Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo. The bill passed the House of Representatives in a veto-proof 65-29 vote, but it squeaked out of the Senate, 25-21, far shy of what’s needed to override a veto.

The House is set to vote on overriding the veto on Monday. The House on Thursday passed a bill for primary seat belt enforcement, a change Burgum has sought.


Burgum cited his administration’s Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic deaths as a reason for his veto. North Dakota logged 98 crash deaths on roads in 2022, the lowest since 97 in 2002.

Other stories from the North Dakota Legislature

"Increasing the maximum speed limit on interstate highways increases both the risk of speed-related crashes and the potential severity of such crashes," Burgum wrote in a veto message to House Speaker Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake.


Burgum cited the deaths of 178 people in speed/aggressive driving-related crashes from 2017-21 in North Dakota, as well as speeding or traveling too fast for conditions being a factor in 30-40% of all fatal crashes in North Dakota each year.

The bill would raise the interstate highway speed limit from 75 mph to 80 mph. There are two interstates in North Dakota — Interstate 94 running east and west across the south, including through Bismarck-Mandan, and Interstate 29 running north and south through the eastern Red River Valley.

A goateed man in a black suit coat, light blue shirt, and blue and black striped tie looks to the side while seated in front of a name plate and microphone. The name plate reads "Rep. B. Koppelman."
State Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, front, and Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, listen to testimony on House Concurrent Resolution 3019 dealing with term limits during a House committee hearing Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at the Capitol.
Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

Koppelman told the House last month that the state Department of Transportation would retain the ability to adjust the speed limit in areas of concern, such as curves and the scenic Badlands section near Medora, and could work with cities to determine the speed limit where interstates go through urban areas and the highway speeds are reduced. Koppelman has unsuccessfully proposed the bill three other times.

Koppelman called Burgum's veto "disappointing," especially on the day when the House voted on Senate Bill 2362 by Sen. Dean Rummel, R-Dickinson, for primary seat belt enforcement, a longtime proposal from previous years.

Neighboring Montana and South Dakota each have an 80 mph interstate highway speed limit.

Seat belt bill

The bill would require all occupants of a vehicle to wear a seat belt, not just those in front seats. Law enforcement officers could issue citations as a primary offense. Not wearing a seat belt is a secondary offense, meaning officers can cite the offense only after another traffic infraction.

The House passed the bill, 53-38, after lengthy debate. The Senate in February passed the bill, 31-14.

Supporters said seat belts save lives . Opponents cited personal freedom in buckling up.


Rep. Eric Murphy, R-Grand Forks, described his daughter and her friend surviving a rollover crash. Both wore seat belts, he said.

"What if she hadn’t been wearing her belt and bounced around inside the cabin of the vehicle? What would her injuries have been? What would her medical bills have been?" Murphy told the House.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, called seat belt use "a matter of choice," with little evidence that more people will buckle up due to the bill's changes.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said, "Yes, driving is a privilege, but people also are responsible for themselves, as well, and if they choose for some reason in some short distance or other reason they have while they're driving to not wear the seat belt, that's them taking responsibility for themselves."

House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, cited statistics and benefits of seat belts in reducing crash deaths and mitigating injuries: 51% of traffic fatalities from 2017-21 on North Dakota roads were of people not wearing seat belts.

"We want to be safe. We want our families and friends to be safe," the top House Republican said.

He also cited his brother and nephew surviving a rollover on icy roads. Both wore their seat belts and suffered minor injuries, Lefor said.

"I called him the next day to see how he was doing. He picked up the phone, he didn't say hello. He said, 'Wear your seat belts,'" Lefor said.


North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum delivers a budget address to lawmakers on Dec. 7, 2022, in the state House of Representatives.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Burgum called a primary seat belt law "a reasonable and responsible means of mitigating the increased risk of a higher speed limit."

"In the absence of a primary seat belt law, I am unable to support the heightened risk of an increased speed limit on interstates," he wrote in his veto message.

Koppelman told the Bismarck Tribune that passage of the seat belt bill could improve the chances of the 80 mph proposal.

The House Transportation Committee also has "the opportunity to amend that language onto another bill," he added. Supporters also may try to rally votes in the Senate, where they need seven additional votes in favor of the bill to override Burgum's veto.

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