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Report: North Dakota last in traffic-safety laws

North Dakota traffic laws are the nation's least safe, while Minnesota's saw big improvements in the past two years and nearly rank in the top one-quarter.

North Dakota traffic laws are the nation's least safe, while Minnesota's saw big improvements in the past two years and nearly rank in the top one-quarter.

That's according to a new study released Wednesday by the Emergency Nurses Association, which rated the states and the District of Columbia on the basis of 14 possible traffic laws.

North Dakota was the only state that had enacted just four of the 14 laws the ENA used as benchmarks. South Dakota, Idaho and Iowa all bested the state by one law with five.

"It's really more disappointing than it is surprising," AnnMarie Papa, the ENA's president-elect, said of North Dakota's showing.

It's the only state that hasn't passed any of the model laws since the first version of the study in 2006. Included among those are regulations on driving while texting, graduated driver's licenses for young drivers, required motorcycle helmets and primary seat-belt enforcement.


Rep. Ed Gruchalla, D-Fargo, is a former Highway Patrol trooper who has backed bills on many of the measures the report dings the state for lacking.

He said it was frustrating that the state hasn't passed what he called "common-sense, slam-dunk" laws.

"We hold out thinking we are a leader. You're not leading the parade when you look back and there's nobody behind you," said Gruchalla, who is facing a recount in District 45 after coming out nine votes up in his re-election bid.

If he ends up returning to the House, Gruchalla said he expects to be able to get enough support to pass the graduated license bill and possibly enough to give the OK to texting regulations.

Papa said the 14 laws in the scorecard report were those research has shown have the highest correlation with limiting crashes or crash fatalities. She said the ENA studies are meant, in part, to put pressure on state legislatures.

Minnesota made strides in traffic safety the past two years, according to the rankings. It improved from a score of five in 2008 to 11 in 2010, putting it in a tie for 13th with Maryland, Illinois, Georgia and Massachusetts.

The only suggested laws Minnesota doesn't have on the books relate to ignition interlock devices to deter drunken driving and two categories of motorcycle helmet regulations.

Gene LeDoucer, a spokesman for AAA in North Dakota, said he's not sure why there's such a disparity between the neighboring states in their approach to traffic-safety laws.


However, the differences play out in the number of traffic deaths, with Minnesota on a downward trend and North Dakota's increasing, he said.

For residents of border cities like Fargo and Grand Forks, the differences can play out in a trip as simple as picking up some groceries.

"It can be confusing," LeDoucer said. "People on the border need to be aware in both states."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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