Without Debate, ND Senators Approve Tougher DUI Laws


Earlier in the legislative session proponents of tougher DUI laws in the state parked, on the steps of the state capitol, a car in which a family was killed by a drunken driver. The intent of the manipulative spectacle was to silence any dissent to tougher DUI laws. The message, you see, is that if you questioned the wisdom of the “get tough” policies you aren’t sufficiently compassionate toward DUI victims.

And it seems the proponents got their way. Without any debate, the state Senate passed tougher DUI laws which mandate jail time for first-time offenders:

The measure requires a first-time offender to spend two days in jail or do 20 hours of community service. The jail time would apply if the drunken driver had a blood-alcohol content of 0.18 percent or greater. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

The bill doubles the fine for a first offense from $250 to $500. The fines and penalties rise for subsequent offenses. Someone who has a fourth DUI conviction could be prosecuted for a felony that carries a potential five-year prison term.

Motorists who refuse to take a breath or blood test for driving under the influence will face the same penalty they’d have if they were convicted of DUI. The measure also includes incentives for drivers to submit to daily testing for alcohol use.

North Dakota senators approved the bill Tuesday, 47-0. There was no debate.

To be sure, there are a lot of good reasons to debate the bill.

For one thing, the state’s prisons are already bursting at the seams. You’d think someone might have wanted to stand up and ask where jailers are going to fit all the 6,500 – 7,000 or so DUI offenders who are arrested every year and, under this law, would be required to serve at least a couple of days in jail. Judges are given the option of community service, too, but public pressure is for more jail time and that will likely be the result.

So where do all these new inmates go, and at what cost to the taxpayers?

For another, can anyone show where increased enforcement has resulted in safer roads? The debate over DUI policies is done a real disservice by focus on arrests, but arrests don’t really tell us anything about road safety. Last year, in making a pitch for DUI reforms, Governor Jack Dalrymple noted that DUI arrests in North Dakota are up 53% over the last decade.

That’s a big increase to be sure, but it’s worth noting that the number of alcohol-related fatalities and traffic accidents are up too (though it’s worth remember that’s in the context of a big increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled in the state):


I don’t think the arrests are making our roads safer. I’d argue, if anything, that alcohol-related fatalities and accidents are stagnating in the context of an increased number of drivers/vehicles on the roads.

But what’s true is that all these arrests aren’t making our roads any safer.

It might feel satisfying, emotionally, to throw a heavier book at DUI offenders, but the goal we all share is safer roads. If the policies before the legislature don’t accomplish that, and I think it’s hard to argue that they will based on the data, then what’s the point?

I don’t think it’s wise governance to rubber stamp “get tough” policies because we all just assume that tougher policies will work.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

Related posts

  • Tim Heise

    Good point on the Prison space. I, even if just for emotional reasons, support jail time for 1st offenders.

    • Roy_Bean

      We should have had a study of how many DUI tickets are plea bargained to reckless. If they didn’t have the stomach to enforce the lesser penalties, what makes you think they will enforce the greater penalties? I know of at least 1 in Stutsman County that was reduced about 7 months before the family from West Fargo was killed and the States Attorney in Sargent County has said, on the record, that he will reduce charges when the BAC is below .15%. If prosecutors won’t prosecute it matters not what the penalty is.

      • Tim Heise

        I agree. That is a big issue. More people will plead down.

  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

    I’m glad that they set the jail time threshhold to being seriously drunk.

  • Ray Seltz

    Rob: This one is low hanging fruit, if it is done right. The key is going to be holding to the law. Limp wristed liberal and (supposedly) conservative judges will weasel out of the sentences, I’m afraid. I say throw them in jail AND charge them for the stay. Because I’m tired of liberal deadbeats living off the governments’ teat in the form of welfare, food stamps and unemployment. And I’m tired of liberals trying to redistribute wealth. I’m tired of smokers who litter their butts because they arrogantly feel it’s their right to litter. And I’m tired of the bar flies who claim “they can hold their liquor” and truly can’t and put other folks in danger, because they don’t have the work ethic to dial a sober friend to come pick them up.

  • headward

    “Motorists who refuse to take a breath or blood test for driving under the influence will face the same penalty they’d have if they were convicted of DUI. The measure also includes incentives for drivers to submit to daily testing for alcohol use.”
    Wouldn’t this be struck down by any court as unconstitutional(Due process, innocent until proven guity)?

  • toppr8

    So whats the answer??

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      How about a tiered approach? How about low BAC’s are just a misdemeanor, but high BAC’s are a felony mandating jail time and a big fine. Also tougher penalties for repeat offenders.

      • Tim Heise

        I’d be in favor of that.

  • liberal

    Question: why is there a high teenage suicide rate in gays? Answer: who cares!

    • KJUU


  • The Fighting Czech

    What percentage of DUI’s are repeat offenders?

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      More importantly, what percentage of those involved in accidents/injuries/fatalities are repeat offenders?

      Very, very good question.

      • The Fighting Czech

        well a quick Google search says about 32% of DUI’s will repeat. cant say if its the gospel truth, as I said it was a quick search.

        So I gather this new Law is meant to further punish first time offenders,of which 66% of them already have learned a valuable lesson. and do not Drink and drive anymore. But does nothing to address the problem of the Repeat offender, who is the one that actually needs the attention.

  • GodSaveAmerica HangPoliticans

    How many people who commit DUIs are illegal aliens?

  • The Fighting Czech

    This seems like beating up on first time offenders isnt the real problem, its the Repeat offenders who are real problem?
    This is just another a law the boys in Bismarck can smack each other on the back admiring how darn caring they have become. , at happy hour tonight…

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I think that’s a really, really good point. I don’t think it’s the guy or gay who gets stopped one time for a .09 BAC. I think it’s the people who get stopped multiple times, or with a BAC off the charts.

      They’re the problems.

      • Nathan Backstrom

        In your article you mentioned that a “manipulative spectacle” was used to silence any dissent. I agree there is much to talk about. We need to talk about how our “right” to use alcohol destroys lives, marriages, and health. I agree you have the right to drink and it’s none of my business. When you get behind the wheel, then it’s my business. I applaud the the ND Senators for having the backbone to strengthen the law. You might be thinking I’m narrow minded for wanting to trample on the “rights” of others to use alcohol. Our three oldest sons lost their right to life because a young man thought he could handle his alcohol. He slammed head-on into our boys causing a very violent death. It was a incredible spectacle that was not manipulated. Our society needs to be reminded as often as necessary so they understand this is reality. It is not a “manipulative spectacle.”
        We will now live the rest of our lives without our precious sons because one young man choose to drink alcohol and drive. Our sons did not deserve to die such violent deaths. They did nothing wrong, but because of someone else’s choices they’re dead. What if it had been your sons or daughters who had been killed?

  • AntiRobPort

    People who commit DUIs & other felonies need to be in jail for a minimum of 7 years with no early release. 20% of the people commit 80% of all crimes.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob


  • FrackinNoDak

    Not nearly strong enough. It should’ve been 5 days in jail and at least a $1000 fine. Assuming the drunkard has a job, wasting a few vacation days in the slammer might be deterrent.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I’d like it proved to me that the “get tough” approach actually works.

      • Kidtransport

        Been to Germany? Lots of drinking going on there, but drinking and driving? Not so much. I think you lose your license permanently on the second offense? i admit it is a little different when many of the farmers live in the villages and can just walk to the bars. The spaces and weather in ND make that a little problematic.

  • spud

    My understanding of this bill is judges will have no leeway with the law. If you are at .18 or better you will do the community time or jail time. Most DUI’s are plea bargained down because they are at the .08 threshold. I have never heard of anyone getting it plea bargained down when the BAC is over double the legal limit.

  • Opinion8ed

    When daddy drives home after having a couple of beers and is not drunk, except by these people’s standards, and does not kill anyone on ride home, when picked up, will now get to spend some time in jail instead of going to work to provide for the family. The children will wonder where daddy is but he is not coming home, but will soon be home permanently when his boss realizes he is not at work. These are the unintended consequences. The ignoramus of these elected officials who themselves drove home after having a drink and not being punished, now want to bring the roof down on those who are guilty of nothing more than anyone who has ever had a drink has done. The simpler answer would have been to provide free rides home to these people to cure the real problem, that would have been the responsible thing to do, but why do the obvious when you can use the power of the law on them. disgraceful. The will not solve the problem. You had the chance to give them a viable option and instead will be stuffing your pockets with cash and overcrowding prisons with people who actually deserve to be locked up. This law will save no one. You completely missed the point and the solution. Congratulate yourselves

    • Kidtransport

      Can you get to .18 or even .08 on “one drink”? Lets not minimize the daddys who will never come home again because they were killed by a drunk driver. It really is simple people and a matter of choice—if you choose to drink, don’t drive. If you choose to drive, don’t drink.

    • 1911bullseye

      You’re right. It will probably curb the behavior at the lower end of the spectrum. But it won’t do a thing to the alcoholics. They’ll still get drunk, lose common sense/ good judgement and get in a car.

  • http://www.facebook.com/odin.anderson.35 Odin Anderson

    What an easy way out! Nobody can say they were for leniency for the ruthless criminal driving home from happy hour, trying to get home for supper. I would like to meet one of those lawmakers who is innocent of this behavior. I used to go up to the Kelly Inn and watch the “Gang” drink their martinis. My opinion: A bunch of Lazy Hypocrites.

  • KJUU

    Rob, this is one area we disagree. Someone can drink until they drop. But don’t get behind the wheel, period, because *you are impaired*. You just don’t believe that you are.

    While I’d like to see more focus on repeat offenders, we’ve got to get past the whole laugh-it-off rite of passage the pastime of drinking in ND gets. “Oh, I did that when I was young, it didn’t hurt me any and I didn’t kill anyone.” Laugh laugh ha ha have another beer.

    Up the ante. We’ll see if there is a corresponding drop in the number of people willing to take the chance in a car. If it doesn’t work, then repeal it.

    I own guns, but I don’t point them at anyone and I don’t put my finger on the trigger unless I intend to use it. Them’s the common sense rules whether I’d harm someone or not. I don’t know anyone who laughs that off: “Oh, I played russian roulette when I was younger, it didn’t hurt me any, and there was that one time….”

  • headward

    They should have removed the bicycle from being able to get a DUI on. I mean really, if you’re drunk and riding a bike the worst you can do is hurt yourself.