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Bill to impose fines for driving on closed roads

BISMARCK (AP) -- North Dakota lawmakers said Thursday they supported a $100 fine for drivers who skirt barriers and drive on roads that have been closed because of snowstorms, and some suggested they would back an even higher penalty.

The North Dakota Senate's Political Subdivisions Committee reviewed legislation sponsored by Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, that would impose the fine and put a two-point penalty on the driver's license of a motorist who drove around a storm gate. A driver who accumulates 12 points has his or her driver's license suspended.

The committee did not act on the bill Thursday. A supporter, Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, asked the panel to consider an amendment that would require a motorist who broke the law and subsequently needed to be rescued to pay the expense of doing so.

North Dakota law now has a $20 fine for going around road-closure gates and driving on a closed highway.

"I want something that people take seriously. Apparently they aren't taking seriously the warnings that law enforcement puts out there," Heckman said Thursday at the committee's hearing on the measure. "It's a bigger danger to our law enforcement people who get called, and to our emergency responders who have to go out there and put their life on the line."

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said she would support a $1,000 fine for the offense, and Lyson and Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, said they would back fines of more than $200.

Mike Reitan, assistant police chief in West Fargo, said North Dakota drivers apparently consider a $20 fine an acceptable risk.

"They view it as $20 out of their pocket," Reitan said. "They don't assume the risk of being stranded, their car stopping, being hit by another vehicle out on the road. They don't look to all of those things."