North Dakota Distracted Driving

A Guide to North Dakota's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving

There are more than 15,000 car accidents every year in North Dakota. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

North Dakota defines distracted driving as “taking eyes, hands, or mental attention away from driving” and cites it as a common contributing factor in most car accidents and close calls in this state.  

In fact, the state points out that distracted drivers are six times more likely to crash their vehicles than drunk drivers.

Common distractions include:

  • Daydreaming
  • Grooming
  • Eating or drinking
  • Reading
  • Viewing a map or navigation system
  • Adjusting the radio or A/C
  • Separating feuding children

North Dakota feels that while driver distractions are the cause of most accidents in this state, it's impossible to get accurate numbers because proving it often requires admission by the driver. For this reason, this state does not collect distracted driving data.

Distracted Driving Statistics in the US

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is:

  • The CDC calls distracted driving a national epidemic.
  • Distracted driving accidents are responsible for more than 3,000 deaths a year in this country.
  • This makes up 9.2% of all motor vehicle fatalities nationwide.
  • Drivers who text while behind the wheel of a car are 23 times more likely to crash or cause a near-crash event than drivers who avoid distractions.
  • Sending a single text message at 55 mph is like driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed.
  • North Dakota made texting while driving illegal in 2011.

Does North Dakota Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

North Dakota’s statewide distracted driving law currently states:

  • Text messaging, emailing, and instant messaging are prohibited for all drivers.
  • Accessing  web pages while driving is prohibited.
  • Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using electronic communication devices, including cell phones, even if in hands-free mode.

And this state has a general distracted driving law that allows law enforcement officers to tack an additional charge onto a moving violation if a driver fails to keep the vehicle under control while distracted.

North Dakota compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Currently, every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But once 2021 rolls around and Arizona's law comes into effect, Montana will be the only state left.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in North Dakota?

Yes.

North Dakota does make exceptions, allowing:

  • Reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number, an extension number or a voice mail retrieval code into an electronic device for the purpose of initiating or receiving a phone call.
  • Inputting, selecting, or reading information on a global positioning system (GPS) or other navigational device.
  • Using a device that is capable of performing multiple functions, such as fleet management systems, dispatching devices, phones, CB radios, music players, or similar devices, for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited.
  • Texting using voice-to-text hands-free technology

Plus, drivers of authorized emergency vehicles are exempt from the state’s distracted driving laws while on the job. And drivers under 18 are permitted to use their cellular phones if they are doing so to contact law enforcement or emergency services to:

  • Report a traffic accident
  • Report a medical emergency
  • Report a serious traffic hazard
  • Prevent a crime that is about to be committed
  • Get help if they reasonably believe that someone’s life or safety is in immediate danger

North Dakota Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                                X
Is handheld device use permitted?                X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                X               

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in North Dakota?

Yes. And no.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. 

So, what happens if a police officer in North Dakota sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? Well, that depends. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state. 

But if you commit a moving violation while eating that burger, you can get an additional distracted driving charge added to your citation.

If you must eat while driving, do so with extreme caution so that you do not risk getting into an accident or being cited for dangerous driving.  Otherwise, you’d probably be better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

North Dakota uses primary enforcement for its texting laws and secondary enforcement for its general distracted driving law.

This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while using your phone, if a police officer sees you doing so, they can pull you over and write up a citation.

But if you're putting on makeup or eating a cheeseburger, a police officer can only cite you if you break another law while doing so.

What's the Penalty for Distracted Driving in North Dakota?

The penalties for a distracted driving citation in North Dakota are as follows:

  • For 14- and 15-year-olds: $20 fine plus 4 points on your driving record
  • For 16- and 17-year-olds: $20 fine with no points on your driving record
  • For 18 and older: $100 fine and no points on your driving record

Let's take a look at how these fines compare with fines in neighboring states:

North Dakota’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

North Dakota’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

You can expect added court costs and fees to make these fines a bit higher. But the price you’ll pay for that distracted driving violation doesn’t necessarily end there … which brings us to our next topic: insurance.

Does a Distracted Driving Citation in North Dakota Increase Insurance Rates?

That depends.

If you're a 14- or 15-year-old driver and you're cited for using your cell phone or texting, you'll have 4 points added to your driving record. Your car insurance rates at this age are already very high and this citation will make them even higher.

For those 16 and older, if you're simply pulled over for violating the law but haven't made any moving violations in the process, your insurance company may never be made the wiser and your rates may stay the same.

But if you cause a fender bender while sending a text message, or if you got a distracted driving violation added to your citation because you ran a stop sign while eating a cheeseburger, you can expect your insurer will find out about it.

The amount of your rate hike will depend on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history. In the state of North Dakota, insurance rates following a distracted driving citation go up an average of $265 a year.  Was the text message really worth that much?

And if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to that. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.

None of the states that share a border with North Dakota prohibit handheld cell phone use—at least not yet.  But Canada does, so if you pop up north on a road trip, you better leave the phone down. Using a handheld phone can get you a fine of $280 CAD in Saskatchewan and $672 CAD in Manitoba.

On the other hand, next door in Montana, texting while driving is perfectly legal. Does that mean you can use your phone at will when driving through that state? It does. Does it mean you should? It does not. Just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wise.

What's North Dakota Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Though the state still permits drivers to use handheld devices for phone calls while driving, its ban on texting while driving is a good start.

This state participates in the NHTSA’s “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign, which is geared toward educating young people about the dangers of distracted driving. 

Additionally, every year in April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, police officers in this state buckle down on distracted driving by issuing more citations and increasing awareness.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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https://www.dot.nd.gov/divisions/safety/docs/crash-summary.pdf

https://www.legis.nd.gov/cencode/t39c08.pdf?20130430165240

https://www.am1100theflag.com/news/10353-u-drive-u-text-u-pay-begins-statewide-september-4