North Dakota: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: September 11, 2017
Latest cell/texting news: Drivers who commit offenses while distracted are subject are now subject to an additional $100 fine. The unusual and somewhat vague law — approved by the Legislature and governor in March — would bar drivers from doing anything with their sight not directly related to operation of the vehicle. The offense, which is subject to secondary enforcement, is categorized as “failure to maintain control.” It took effect Aug. 1.

North Dakota flag for texting driving report The 2017 law essentially adds general distracted driving wording to the state’s texting & driving statute. State Rep. Corey Mock’s plan originally sought to repeal the existing texting & driving law, but that was backed down by lawmakers. Rep. Lawrence Klemin, father of the 2011 text & driving statute, says the texting ban was “a good law” as it was.

North Dakota’s first distracted driving laws went into effect Aug. 1, 2011, with text messaging prohibited for all drivers. Primary enforcement applies, meaning police can stop and cite motorists for that offense alone. A texting & driving ticket in North Dakota will run you at least $100.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging prohibited for all drivers. Also accessing web pages. $100 fine.
  • Failure to have vehicle under control while distracted. $100 add-on fine if other infraction results. Takes effect Aug. 1, 2017.
  • Drivers under 18 prohibited from using electronic communications devices, including cell phones.

Read the North Dakota distracted driving laws (bottom of PDF page).

Distracted driving legislation (2017):
House Bill 1430: Would repeal add to texting law a prohibition of any activity that requires driver’s sight and is not directly related to operation of vehicle. Built-in accessory use OK. Voice-operated devices and navigation devices OK. Secondary enforcement. Fine: $100. Approved by the Transportation Committee in an 11-3 vote of Feb. 17. Approved by the House in a 67-23 vote of Feb. 22. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of March 17. Approved by the full Senate in a 37-9 vote of March 20. Approved again by the House on March 22. Signed into law by the governor March 24. Effective Aug. 1, 2017. (Mock)

Distracted driving notes (2017):
Traffic deaths are heading up in 2017. As of September, 84 people died on North Dakota roads and highways. That’s up from 73 fatalities in the same period last year. State law officers launched a texting & driving crackdown in mid-September.

State Rep. Corey Mock says his distracted driving law is deliberately vague to allow for more effective enforcement. “You’re going to be able to drive and eat Skittles … but if doing something else causes you to lose control of your vehicle, you need to rethink that behavior,” he told the Bismarck Tribune in July.

“There is no dispute that distracted driving is more than dangerous,” says state Rep. Corey Mock. “It’s deadly.” But he sought to replace the texting & driving law with a general distracted driving approach. “Texting only accounts for a small portion — less than 15 percent — of our distraction-related injuries and fatalities. The majority of distraction-related crashes … are caused by distractions other than texting while driving.”

2015 distracted driving notes:
A North Dakota woman was initially charged with homicide after she allegedly hit an SUV and killed one of its passengers while using social media. The 20-year-old was checking photos on Facebook at the time she slammed into the SUV on Interstate 29, police said after searching her cell phone. Abby Sletten, 20, was charged Sept. 3, 2014, with negligent homicide in the May 27 death of the passenger, an 89-year old woman from Minnesota. In April 2015, she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received a year of probation.

Distracted driving notes (2012):
Bismark police targeted drivers who text message while behind the wheel, and wrote 31 tickets. The two-day sweep in early October was “a wake up call,” police said. No cell phone violations by young drivers were reported. Texting drivers can expect more of the same: “Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern that puts everyone on the road at risk,” Deputy Chief Randy Ziegler said.

2011 distracted driving legislation:
HB 1195: Outlaws texting and other forms of electronic messaging for all drivers. Primary enforcement. Fine: $100. (The following penalties were removed by Senate on March 28, just before its final vote: “Two points against license (first offense), then four points. For third and subsequent violations, one-year suspension of driver’s license.”) Rejected by the House Transportation Committee on an 8-6 vote on Feb. 4. The panel deadlocked twice on the bill, but a supporter changed his vote to “no” so the measure could move out of committee and on to the House floor. Approved by the full House in a 50-41 vote on Feb. 8 and sent to the Senate. The Senate Transportation Committee decided not to support the bill on March 25. Critics said the penalties were too severe. Amended and approved by the Senate in a 32-15 vote taken March 28 (penalty limited to $100 fine). Approved a second time by the House in a 53-40 vote taken April 5. Latest action: Signed into law April 26 by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple. (Klemin)

HB 1256: Sweeping teen traffic safety legislation includes a ban on use of handheld electronic devices for drivers under 18, including cell phones. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 16. Approved by the House in a 71-22 vote on Feb. 22. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 31. Approved by the Senate in a 33-14 vote on April 1. Latest action: Signed into law by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on April 26.

HB 1190: Distracted driving measure that would prohibit activities that require driver’s sight unless they involve the “whole motor vehicle or a built-in accessory.” Secondary enforcement; no points. Fines: $30 to $50. Approved by the House Transportation Committee in an 8-6 vote on Feb. 4 and sent to the full House. Approved by the House in a 56-37 vote on March 9 and sent to the Senate. The Senate Transportation Committee decided not to support the bill on March 25. Approved by the Senate in a 41-6 vote taken March 28 (amended with minor rewording). Latest action: Rejected by the House on second reading of April 7 in a 40-48 vote. Dead. (Ruby)

2011 distracted driving notes:
North Dakota became the 31st state to ban texting and driving when the governor signed HB 1195 in late April 2011.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said at the April 26 signing ceremony for HB 1195 and HB 1256: “Texting while driving is clearly a dangerous distraction that can result in serious injury or death, and I’m glad to see we are joining a growing number of states that are taking this action to make our roads a safer place. I’m also pleased to see that our youngest and most inexperienced drivers will benefit from a process that will better prepare them for the road and help keep them and others safe. House Bill 1256 will help young drivers minimize their risks, while they maximize their experience behind the wheel.”

The Senate Transportation Committee’s decided March 25 to slap a “do not pass” tag on both distracted driving bills that originated in the House. One critic on the panel said HB 1190 would be “opening the door to all vague and nebulous activity” in enforcement. One senator proposed an amendment to make the penalties less harsh, but the committee ignored that recommendation.

The Transportation Committee heard testimony March 17 on the two distracted driving bills under consideration in the Senate. Rep. Lawrence Klemin’s HB 1195 drew the most support, the AP reported. Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, spent much of his testimony attacking Klemin’s bill. Only one witness (a co-sponsor) spoke in favor of Ruby’s bill while an insurance executive, a high school student and Bismarck’s police chief testified for the Klemin bill. The committee took no action on either measure.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, succeeded in bringing back HB 1190 for a House vote on Feb. 9, a day after it was defeated (and HB 1195 won approval). This sent both bills to the Senate for its consideration.

HB 1190 calls for secondary enforcement and covers several distracted driving behaviors; HB 1995 is a straightforward texting and driving ban that would give police the authority to stop and cite motorists for that offense alone. HB 1195 provides for points against a license and possible license suspensions. Sending both bills to the Senate punts the debate over enforcement and penalties to that legislative body.

HB 1195 sponsor Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, asked House members before the Feb. 8 vote: “What kind of message do you want to send back home? Is it OK to drive while texting, or isn’t it? Send the right message. Let’s pass this bill.”

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, opposed HB 1195 in committee by saying texting bans in several N.D. cities “haven’t stopped anyone from texting.” They’ve made teens “better at hiding texting, which in my mind makes it even more dangerous.” Another opponent said cities should just make their own laws.

The House Transportation Committee first examined the two distracted driving bills — HBs 1190 and 1195 — on Jan. 27. Rep. Klemin was asked about singling out texting drivers with his proposed ban: “We have a whole lot of issues having to do with distracted driving, and I think this focuses on one,” he responded. “We now have the functional equivalent of a large number of drunken drivers on the road.”

Committee chairman Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said he wanted to cast a wider net for distracted drivers by requiring motorists to keep their eyes on the road. His HB 1190 calls for only secondary enforcement, in which police need another reason to pull over violators.

Rep. Klemin’s HB 1195 reprises his unsuccessful HB 1208 from the 2009 session (below).

Outlawing texting while driving has picked up support in the 2011 Legislature, the AP reports. Of the 76 House reps who responded to a December 2010 survey, 50 backed a texting bill with 18 others opposed. 38 senators replied, with 28 in support of a texting ban and six opposed. (Others were undecided.)

Local distracted driving laws:
Bismarck has banned text messaging while driving. The law took effect immediately after the City Commission vote on Oct. 26, but enforcement wasn’t to take effect for several weeks. Primary enforcement (police can stop and cite motorists for this violation alone) and fines up to $50.

Bismarck Commissioner Parrell Grossman pushed to have his distracted driving law take effect before the state Legislature returns in January. “We need to act now to protect the people of Bismarck,” he said, noting that a state law probably wouldn’t take effect until mid-summer 2011. The Bismarck law covers texting, emailing and Internet use, but not phone calls.

Grand Forks’ ban against texting and driving went into effect Oct. 15. Tickets cost violators $15. The Grand Forks ban also includes email and Internet use. The City Council debated distracted driving through the summer, with the original plan calling for fines of $30.

2009 legislation (dead):
HB 1208 — Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, saw his legislation to ban text messaging for drivers defeated in the House on a 60-34 vote. The law would have included a fine of up to $100 fine and a 2-point license penalty for first offenders. Subsequent violations would have brought a 4-point penalty. The bill was modeled after Minnesota’s text-messaging law.

Previous legislation notes (background):
Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm and Rep. Ed Gruchalla, D-Fargo, have proposed legislation that would outlaw cell phone use and text messaging by drivers who are 14 or 15 years old. North Dakota allows 14-year-olds to drive with provisional licenses.

An Associated Press poll of North Dakota legislators found a majority favored cell phone restrictions on young drivers.

“(Text messaging) seems to be the worst distraction a driver can engage in while using a cell phone,” Rep. Klemin said.

Klemin’s bill that would have banned cell phone use by minors was defeated during the 2007 session. He had lobbied to have the cell phone ban extended to all drivers unless they were using hands-free mobile phone devices.


  1. Pratrina Carvell says:

    My Husband, Frank Carvell was killed near Watford city by (a woman) who was engaged in cell phone activities using her hands, August 13,2013, Either texting or checking social media. She crossed traffic in front of my husband. He was killed when he swerved to miss her causing him to roll his truck. He leaves behind 5 children (one with cancer). She was never cited even though the investigation proved her to be 100% at fault for his death. The Prosecuting Attorney refused to charge her, at the dismay of the highway patrol.

    People need to wake up and see the dangers of cell phone usage while operating a vehicle. Whats $100 compared to a mans life? If it was your husband who was taken from you because of the negligence of another, would you still be complaining about the $100 fine?

  2. A $100 ticket is ridiculous! You can drive 60 in a 25 and only get a 70$ ticket! All this is going to do is make people hide it. What’s next — are they going to outlaw eating and driving?

  3. Cindy Gomez-Schempp says:

    Enforcement is an issue. Regardless of what laws and officials do to protect people, we will always be trying to keep up with new technology and with the ever present danger of distracted drivers. Before it was hair combing and make-up touch ups while driving that was distracting drivers, now its texting and talking.

  4. Shawn Graves says:

    I have cdl class A license. I use my cell phone a lot for work. I also use a hands free headset. Is there any new North Dakota law regarding the use of a hands free device for cdl drivers? If so, could you please e-mail me a copy of the new laws regarding this topic? There are a lot of rumors flying around about this topic. I just want to know what is right. Thank-you from a concerned truck driver.

    • Shawn: Here is the handheld electronics document that become federal law; it is enforced by local law enforcement. Use a hands-free device and you’re in the clear.

  5. andrew wichman says:

    How is this going to be enforced. Can ordinary citizens turn people in who are texting and driving?

  6. Mary Kenyon says:

    I am working with our local police department and driver’s ed classes to spread the word about this dangerous habit. Our police chief makes the point that a crash due to cell phone use looks the same as a crash due to DUI. But the public’s perception of the dangers of these 2 habits is much different. Drinking and driving is NOW socially unacceptable and against the law. How long will it take before we wake up that the dangers of using a cell phone while behind the wheel are just as bad?

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