Drivers, leave your electronic communication devices and phones alone when operating a vehicle in Bismarck.
The Bismarck City Commission banned texting and driving Tuesday. Violators will be fined $50.
The ordinance prohibits operating a motor vehicle on any highway, street or alley within city limits while using a wireless communication device to read, view, write or send an electronic message or electronic information.
The new law becomes effective immediately, but exempts the following:
n Emergency and law enforcement officials performing official duties.
n Drivers reporting emergency or criminal activities or seeking medical assistance.
n Using GPS devices for navigation purposes.
n Using voice-activated or other hands-free wireless communication devices.
n Use when drivers are lawfully parked.
Police Chief Keith Witt said phone records are subpoenaed for serious accidents when distracted driving is suspected.
City attorney Charlie Whitman said the law makes texting and driving a primary offense. Drivers do not have to be caught doing something else first.
Whitman said the law takes effect immediately. He said violators may be given warnings in the next few weeks to allow them to adjust.
Clint Fleckenstein, a resident who spoke at the hearing, called the ordinance’s wording flawed because it singles out texting only.
“It puts a burden of proof that could not reasonably be met,” he said “While singling out texting, I think there would be a better solution to clarify care required, while somehow addressing the distracted driving.”
Chuck Clairmont, executive director for the North Dakota Safety Council, said the agency supports a ban on texting and driving “as a start.”
“If you’re using a cell phone(while driving), you’re four times more likely to get into a crash,” Clairmont said. “Take and add texting to that issue — it adds eight to 23 times more likely to get in a crash.”
He urged more to be done for distracted driving in general.
“It truly is becoming a bigger and bigger problem,” said commissioner Josh Askvig. “I think it’s important that we as a community say, “This is an entirely dangerous activity you’re partaking in. You are not only endangering yourself, but your fellow citizens.’”
Mayor John Warford questioned how enforceable it was, but said he was persuaded by Clairmont’s comments that similar laws in California resulted in a 70 percent change of behavior with the problem.
Commissioner Mike Seminary reluctantly agreed to back the ordinances; he doubted how enforceable it was.
“While it’s a good place to start,” he said. “Where do we go from there?”
Commissioner Parrell Grossman, who sponsored the ordinance, called it the most immediate problem the city had to deal with.
“I really think we’re looking at the opportunity to save some lives,” Grossman said.
(Reach reporter LeAnn Eckroth at 250-8264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)