BISMARCK (AP) - State lawmakers are backing large increases in North Dakota's highway speeding fines, some of which haven't been increased in four decades or more.
The penalties rank among the least expensive in the region, and raising them would help deter speeding, said Mike Reitan, an assistant West Fargo police chief.
The Legislature's interim Transportation Committee endorsed legislation Wednesday that would, at least double many highway speeding fines.
The measure also would simplify the process of calculating the penalties, which is difficult to do without a detailed explanatory chart. North Dakota's fine amounts vary, depending on the speed limit where the violation is clocked.
The committee's approval means the bill will be introduced in the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers have been reluctant to jack up speeding fines despite pleas from law enforcement officers and safety advocates.
"Is this a good move? Yes. In fact, even just considering it has been a real difficult process," said Rep. Ed Gruchalla, D-Fargo.
Gruchalla, a committee member, is a former North Dakota highway patrolman who has unsuccessfully pushed legislation to raise speeding penalties.
The proposal has different fine schedules for highways where the speed limit is 65 mph or lower, and for roads where the limit is more than 65 mph. It eliminates an existing fine table for roads with limits of 55 mph or less.
The maximum legal speed is 75 mph on most stretches of North Dakota's two interstate highways. Other four-lane highways, such as U.S. 83 and U.S. 2, have top speeds of 70 mph. On most other roads, the limit is 65 mph or less.
Driving 65 mph on a state highway where the speed limit is 55 mph currently carries a $10 penalty. The legislation would raise that fine to $50.
Someone going 80 mph on Interstate 29 or 94 now risks a $25 fine; the bill would raise the sum to $50. An 85 mph interstate speeder now can be ticketed for $50; under the proposed law, the fine would be $90.
Gruchalla said some of North Dakota's speeding fines haven't been raised since the mid-1950s, and he believes the increases sought in the legislation are not high enough. However, the job of raising fines will have to be done in stages, he said.
"Do I think they're enough? No. But I think it's a good start," he said.
The legislation would also allow North Dakota cities that have their own traffic ordinances to raise their own fines. Under current law, they cannot set their own penalties.
A time analysis presented to the committee Wednesday estimated it cost the city of West Fargo about $79 in officer time to write a ticket that carries a much smaller financial penalty.
Reitan said he got his first speeding ticket in 1975, for driving 38 mph in a 25 mph zone in the rural Cass County community of Arthur. The fine was $13, just as it would be today, he said.
"By bringing the fees up to compensate for that inflation factor, it becomes a deterrent," he said.