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Driven to ban texting? North Dakota, Fargo eye distracted driving laws

FARGO - New laws in Bismarck and Grand Forks prohibiting texting while driving may help push North Dakota to join the 30 states - including Minnesota - with texting bans.

MAP: State texting laws by state
The Forum

FARGO - New laws in Bismarck and Grand Forks prohibiting texting while driving may help push North Dakota to join the 30 states - including Minnesota - with texting bans.

"The problem is becoming more prevalent every year," said state Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, who will propose a texting ban during the upcoming 2011 session, which starts in January.

Meanwhile, Fargo officials will continue to monitor what the state decides as well as how effective the new bans in Grand Forks and Bismarck are before moving forward on a citywide measure, said Police Chief Keith Ternes.

Fargo will likely consider some sort of distracted driving ordinance in the next six to 12 months, he said.

City Commissioner Brad Wimmer said he prefers to wait and see what state lawmakers decide before moving forward with a ban in Fargo.

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"I would think if the state doesn't pass it, that we would attack it after that," he said.

Rep. Ed Gruchalla, D-Fargo, said he supports a statewide texting ban because it makes enforcement and penalties more consistent from city to city.

Klemin's bill proposes fines ranging from $20 to $100 for offenders. Gruchalla is likely to propose his own legislation making texting while driving a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to $500, he said.

In 2007 and 2009, Klemin introduced distracted driving and texting bills that were defeated, but he's feeling more optimistic going into this session.

When Klemin first pushed for legislation on distracted driving, only a handful of states had similar measures. Today 30 states and the District of Columbia have texting bans. Eleven of those laws went into effect in 2010 alone.

A federal bill co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., may further encourage states to implement texting while driving laws.

The bill, awaiting consideration in the U.S. Senate, would give states two years to implement a no-texting law. States without such a measure would lose 25 percent of their federal transportation funding.

Minnesota's statewide texting law took effect in 2008 and imposes fines of up to $300 for violators.

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Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said officers have issued a "couple of dozen" citations for the offense, but "you still see far too much of it," he said.

Ebinger said he hopes both enforcement and education on the dangers of texting while driving will help curtail the practice in the future.

Having a similar ban in Fargo might help education efforts on both sides of the metro, Ebinger said.

But for now, it will be the public that will drive North Dakota's ban, Klemin said.

"If the public is interested enough ... they should be contacting their legislators to tell them to support it," he said.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Texting while driving
(David Samson / file photo / The Forum)

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