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Published December 29, 2010, 03:29 PM

More ND Lawmakers Back Text, Teen Restrictions

Proposals to ban texting by North Dakota motorists and to impose new restrictions on teenage drivers have picked up support in the Legislature, which has previously rejected both ideas, an Associated Press survey found.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Proposals to ban texting by North Dakota motorists and to impose new restrictions on teenage drivers have picked up support in the Legislature, which has previously rejected both ideas, an Associated Press survey found.

A majority of North Dakota lawmakers in both the House and Senate said in an AP survey this month that they support a ban on texting while driving. Earlier this year, the cities of Bismarck and Grand Forks approved local ordinances to prohibit it.

Lawmakers' support for a "graduated driver's license" for 14- and 15-year-olds wasn't as strong, but a plurality of senators and House members who responded to the survey said they favored the idea.

North Dakota allows teenagers as young as 14 to drive without supervision. It is the only state in the nation that doesn't impose special restrictions on 14- and 15-year-old drivers, such as whether they may use cell phones and how many passengers they may carry, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a Washington, D.C., organization that represents state road safety agencies.

Two years ago, the Legislature rejected a proposed ban on texting while driving. The measure's sponsor, Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, said he will introduce it again in the 2011 session, and he believes its chances for approval have brightened.

"I think there's greater awareness of how dangerous this is, and a number of states have done something on this issue," Klemin said.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, including 11 that took the step this year, the Governors Highway Safety Association says.

The Associated Press surveyed North Dakota legislators by e-mail and regular mail this month about their opinions on a group of issues. Of the 141 North Dakota senators and House members, 114 replied, a response rate of 81 percent.

Seventy-six of the House's 94 members replied, with 50 saying they favored a ban on texting while driving. Eighteen said they were opposed, and eight were undecided. Thirty-eight of the North Dakota Senate's 47 members responded, with 28 supporting a ban, six opposing it and four saying they were undecided.

Klemin's legislation would prohibit any driver from sending text messages or e-mail or surfing the Internet. Violators would be fined $100 and have two penalty points added to their driver's licenses. A driver's license is suspended for a week if he or she accumulates 12 points.

The proposed ban excludes cell phone calls, CB radios and global positioning devices that drivers use to get directions to their destinations.

Under Klemin's bill, a repeat texting offender would get a four-point penalty against his or her driver's license on second and subsequent offenses, and a year's license suspension for a third offense.

The ban would extend to drivers who are stopped at a red light or stop sign, although it would not apply if a driver's vehicle was legally parked. It would not apply to cell phone calls, CB radios or global positioning devices that drivers use for directions.

Local ordinances approved in Grand Forks and Bismarck earlier this year have language similar to Klemin's measure, but carry more lenient penalties. A Bismarck texting violation carries a $50 fine; in Grand Forks, the fine is $15.

The graduated driver's license proposal has been the centerpiece of an extensive publicity campaign, supported by AAA North Dakota, the state Highway Patrol and North Dakota's departments of transportation, health and insurance. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, in his budget address to legislators this month, said he supported the idea.

No legislation has been introduced outlining the measure's exact details, but supporters have generally described it as restricting the ability of 14- and 15-year-olds to drive at night, carry passengers and use cell phones while driving.

North Dakota law now allows a 14-year-old to have an "instruction permit" to drive if he or she passes a written exam and eyesight test. The young driver must be accompanied by someone who is at least 18 years old and has at least three years' driving experience.

Once the 14-year-old has had an instructional permit for at least six months, he or she may get a restricted driver's license by completing required training and by passing a behind-the-wheel test of driving proficiency. The license allows a young driver to drive a parent's or guardian's vehicle without an adult present, and they may not carry more passengers than the vehicle's manufacturer suggests as a maximum number.

Once a young North Dakota driver turns 16, he or she is eligible for full driving privileges, meaning he or she may drive vehicles not owned by a parent or guardian.

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