There is no shortage of anecdotes about low speeding fines in North Dakota. As we have noted before, motorists can zip down an interstate highway in North Dakota at 100 mph and get a fine of $125. Yet if they litter, they'll be fined $500.
At least the interstates are designed for higher speeds. On city streets it's the same problem: Drive 10 mph over the speed limit and the fine is just $10. Meanwhile, it costs between $7 and $12 to process a ticket, so a city actually loses money on some traffic citations.
Meanwhile, drivers in North Dakota who accrue 12 points, or demerits, on their record can lose their license, but there are no penalty points for driving 6-10 mph over the limit and only one point for driving 11-15 mph over the limit. It means drivers can be caught going 39 in 25 mph zone 11 times and still not lose their license, paying minimal fines each time. Even if they get 12 demerits, the license suspension is only for a week.
All of this is why we back a proposal - being pushed by Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson and City Councilman Danny Weigel - that could result in changes to traffic fines in North Dakota. Nelson and Weigel hope to see their proposal brought before the Legislature, which then would have to change state law.
Monday, Nelson told the Herald he is concerned current fines offer little or no deterrent for speeders. Nelson joined the Grand Forks Police Department in 1988 and recalls that back then, a ticket for driving 35 mph in a 25 mph zone was $21. Today, it's half that.
The trouble is in the wording of state code, that no entity can supersede what a fine would be under state law.
Both Weigel and Nelson said there are two potential solutions: Change state law to let communities determine their own fines, or draft legislation that allows surcharges to be added to current state fines.
We prefer the former, since traffic flow in Grand Forks differs greatly from more wide-open areas in western North Dakota. Autonomy allows for customization based on population density and input from local police, who earn no revenue from writing speeding tickets.
Weigel, a lieutenant and public information officer in the UND Police Department, said he backs the proposal more as a councilman than an officer. He believes there is a good chance members of the Grand Forks delegation will sponsor legislation this coming session. We hope they do.
Perhaps an initiative underway in North Dakota will help. Called Vision Zero, it's designed to use education, roadway safety enhancements and policy decisions to reduce the state's annual roadway fatality rate. There were 116 roadway fatalities in North Dakota last year.
However, there is only so much that can be done through education and roadway safety enhancement. Meanwhile, raising fines for speeding wouldn't cost anything, yet it might deter a motorist from overdriving a speed limit and causing a fatal crash.
Is North Dakota serious about reducing roadway fatalities?
If so, lawmakers must listen to Nelson and Weigel and change our state's ridiculous and laughable speeding fines.