North Dakota Tops Nation in Drunk Driving Deaths - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

North Dakota Tops Nation in Drunk Driving Deaths

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New statistics out Tuesday show North Dakota is leading the nation in percentage of deaths involving drunk driving.

Those statistics also point to low seatbelt use and higher deaths involving speeding when compared to Minnesota.

The new statistics do not surprise Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney. He says, "It can't be this general acceptance that wink, wink, nod, nod I'm gonna drive home drunk...yeah I've had four-five too many but I'm gonna sneak home."

As the Sheriff puts it, North Dakota has a culture issue. "It goes to that culture of I don't think I need to wear it, and it won't happen to me," says Laney.

Statistics from Pew Charitable Trusts show in North Dakota, seat belt use is at 74 percent. Forty-five percent of deaths involve drunk drivers, and 40 percent of deaths involve speeding.

Compare that to Minnesota where seatbelt use is at 92 percent, 31 percent of deaths are drunk driving deaths and 23 percent of deaths are from speeding and there may be some problems.

Laney says besides culture the problems are the fines and penalties. "They'll joke about what our penalties are for speeding fine. You know give me another I'm running late," he says.

Sergeant Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol says, "The minimum speeding ticket in Minnesota will cost you about $125."

In North Dakota a speeding ticket, depending on how fast you are going, will run you about $10-15 on interstates and county roads. You cannot be pulled over only for not wearing a seatbelt, and DUI laws are lagging. These are three things Minnesota seems to have in check.

"We've been able to reduce the number of fatalities consistently each year in Minnesota by having that reputation of hey we mean business over here," says Grabow.

That is why Sheriff Laney says it is time for North Dakota's penalties to get some teeth.

He says, "The citations and the fines that go along with citations with DUI have got to get people to sit up and say I don't want one of those."

In recent years, Minnesota lawmakers strengthened the penalties for driving violations. You can be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt, and you will be hit with a $100 fine. You may receive a $1000 fine and/or 90 days in jail for a first DUI.

In North Dakota, there is no primary seatbelt law. Lawmakers are working to raise speeding fines. When it comes to DUI offenses, they are working on possibly raising the fine to $500 from $250. You would have to have a blood alcohol content of nearly three times of the legal limit before you would go to jail.

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