The Bismarck City Commission needs to approve higher fines for traffic violations. It’s apparent too many motorists are ignoring the laws and creating safety risks.
The commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday on a proposal to double the fines for speeding and running red lights. The Legislature during this year’s session voted to allow counties and cities to adopt local fines for speeding and traffic violations. The commission can vote to double fines, raise them by a lesser amount or leave them the same.
The number of traffic violations in Bismarck indicate to the Tribune editorial board that it’s time for higher fines. Hopefully, drivers will think twice before gunning it.
From January 2016 to December 2018, according to Bismarck Police Chief Dave Draovitch, there were 436 motor vehicle crashes involving drivers running red lights. Eight resulted in “serious bodily injury.” Speeding resulted in 89 accidents, and people driving too fast for conditions ended in 148 crashes. Bismarck police also reported 148 accidents caused by drivers running stop signs with two resulting in injuries.
Over the weekend, a Bismarck police officer was hurt after a driver failed to yield at a stop sign. The same driver just paid a $20 fine for failing to stop at a red light in Williston in May, court records show. He also has had five speeding citations in North Dakota since 2016. It doesn't appear that traffic citations and fines are serving as a deterrent.
Motorists running red lights is a common sight in Bismarck. Anytime you are waiting at a four-way stop you can witness drivers going through red lights or watch vehicles lined up at the turn light continuing to go after the light has changed.
With the addition of confirmation lights in the last year, police have proof of the level of red light violations. Confirmation lights, the blue lights on the top or bottom of traffic lights, go on when the lights turn red. Officers are alerted by the blue that the red has gone on. The lights are at 109 intersections in Bismarck.
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Since the blue lights have been installed, police have issued 223 red light citations compared to 206 in the same time frame in the previous year. Obviously, police haven’t caught all violators.
Going through a red light may seem harmless to many, but it can be risky. There’s the potential another driver’s ready to start quickly when his or her light turns green. The result can be a crash.
Red light violations aren’t the only problem. There are some streets in Bismarck where drivers regularly go 5 mph to 10 mph above the speed limit. Law enforcement across the state has been critical of the level of traffic fines, arguing they are too low. Whether higher fines will deter drivers from speeding or running red lights remains to be seen.
The Tribune believes higher fines will make some drivers think twice before violating the law. Motorists need to keep in mind that traveling in the Bismarck area doesn’t take much time. Yes, the summer construction season adds some travel time. However, when there’s no construction it doesn’t take long to go from one end of Bismarck to another.
Along with adjusting traffic fines, Bismarck should review the speed limits on some of the main streets. It’s possible some limits should be raised or lowered.
Drivers are the ultimate key to traffic safety. We need to show patience and not be distracted by cellphones, music or conversation. Until motorists police themselves it’s likely they will be paying higher fines for violations.
As noted in the beginning, the Bismarck City Commission needs to increase traffic fines.