GRAND FORKS - North Dakota has long been known as a place to put the pedal to the metal.
Over the years, visitors cruising through the state on Interstate 94 or U.S. Highway 2 have found themselves pleasantly surprised to learn a speeding ticket here won't break the bank. Last year, AutoTrader.com published a story titled "North Dakota Speeding Fines Are Hilarious." In 2014, Popular Mechanics named North Dakota "The Best State to Get Caught Speeding."
Speeding fines in North Dakota increase according to how much the driver exceeds the speed limit. On most roads, drivers are fined $1 per mile per hour over the speed limit they are traveling, up to 15 mph over the limit, when the fee goes to $2 per mile per hour over the limit; at 20 mph over, the fine tops out at $3 per mile per hour over the limit. For a highway where the limit is more than 65 mph, a driver is fined $5 for each mile per hour over the limit, according to state law.
"The joke, sort of, in North Dakota is, we want to keep speeding affordable," said Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, who chairs the Senate's transportation committee.
Laffen tried to pass a bill this session to increase speed limits on interstates to 80 mph that would have also increased the speeding fine amounts, but it didn't pass.
Laffen has been in the Legislature since 2011 and has seen a few attempts to raise fines over the years. He believes with current conservative makeup of the Legislature doesn't have much an appetite for raising taxes, fines or fees of any sort.
"It was just sort of a longstanding policy by a number of legislators that the people writing the tickets shouldn't have an incentive to write tickets for their own budgets, that kind of goes way back," Laffen said.
He said state troopers have told him over the years that they want stiffer penalties for speeders.
"Highway Patrol would like to see the fines increase," he said. "They put their lives on the line standing on the side of the road, sometimes for $5. They don't believe what they're doing is a deterrent. It gets hard for them to write tickets they don't believe are working."
The Highway Patrol gave out 27,425 speeding tickets totalling $939,612 in fines collected for a ticket average of $34.26 in 2016, according to department records. A review of speeding tickets given out by the Highway Patrol from 2011 to 2016 found an average ticket cost of about $35.
Statewide, North Dakota law enforcement agencies gave out 59,112 speeding tickets in 2015, the most recent year total data was available from, according to the Department of Transportation. Since 2010 the state has averaged giving out 59,132 tickets per year.
In Minnesota over the same period, 1,235,167 speeding citations were filed, and $128,551,392 in payments were received, accounting to data records obtained from the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
Although Laffen favors higher speed limits in North Dakota, he doesn't want people cruising along at 90 mph and believes a higher fine would be a deterrent.
"Our fines really aren't much of a deterrent," he said. "They are in Minnesota and South Dakota, but not here."
Grand Forks Police Lt. Bill Macki said he believes the key to reducing speeding is not increasing fines, but making people feel they might be caught.
"Whether the fine is $15 or $80 doesn't seem to be quite as relevant as seeing a high patrol presence," Macki said.
Most people don't want to break the law, Macki said, and the best way to deter people from any aggressive behavior on the road is seeing a lot of cops on patrol.
In Grand Forks, Macki said officers focus on speed enforcement in school zones, which are the only areas in the state that have a base fine of $40. He said the department also tries to focus speeding enforcement along four lane roads.
State Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he's tried to raise speeding fines a few times over the years, but to no avail.
Ruby said a bill introduced in the Senate this session might lead to higher speeding fines.
Senate Bill 2204 would add a $40 surcharge to non-criminal moving violations and $100 to criminal moving violations, which would go toward the statewide interoperability radio network fund. Ruby is unsure if the Legislature will go for a law that funds programs in such a way.
Speeding fines in North Dakota do not go into the state budget, but rather into the Common Schools Trust Fund.
While the fines for traffic violations may not act as as a big deterrent, Ruby noted that points added on to driving records do result in higher insurance rates, which serve as a further financial burden on offenders.
North Dakota speeding by the numbers
A look at the number of citations issued by the North Dakota Highway Patrol and amount of fines collected since 2010.
2010: 38,880 / $1,283,315
2011: 35,966 / $1,243,785
2012: 41,959 / $1,507,807
2013: 35,151 / $1,247,812
2014: 35,074 / $1,233,065
2015: 35,749 / $1,282,644
2016: 27,425 / $939,612