Driving in North Dakota
On the road in North Dakota you'll quickly spot the official state nickname, the Peace Garden State, on license plates. The name offers a nod to the International Peace Garden, a park created in 1932 on the U.S.-Canadian border to pay tribute to the good relationship between the two countries.
Other common nicknames include the Flickertail State, due to the abundance of squirrels in North Dakota, and the Roughrider State, in recognition of the cowboys from the state who fought in the Spanish-American War.
North Dakota offers many scenic drives, including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Byway, where you might spot bison, bighorn sheep and wild horses.
Due to the state's northern location, drivers have to brush up on winter driving in tough conditions. However, summer is a whole different story, according to Amanda Duff, a PR professional and travel blogger from Connecticut who drove through North Dakota recently.
"In the summer, North Dakota is gorgeous," says Duff, who snapped photos of whimsical sculptures she saw on her trip down the Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile road dotted with roadside art. In addition to the local culture, she also appreciated the colorful blooms she spotted on her drive, which seems appropriate for a state with the word "garden" in its official nickname.
"I was so surprised by the abundance of yellow wildflowers, as if someone had laid a yellow carpet over the fields," she says.
North Dakota Auto Insurance Regulations
The state of North Dakota requires liability coverage and uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. At minimum, drivers in the state must carry insurance in the following amounts:
- Bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in which two or more people are injured
- Property damage liability of $25,000 per accident
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage for bodily injury of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in which two or more people are injured
- Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage of $30,000 per person
Also known as basic no-fault coverage, PIP covers certain losses that result from injury in a crash, such as medical expenses and lost wages, no matter who was at fault for the accident.
Drivers who fail to comply with the minimum auto insurance requirements in North Dakota must pay a fine of at least $150. If they're involved in a crash while failing to carry the proper coverage, the state will assess 14 points against their driver license resulting in a suspended license.
Car Culture in North Dakota
North Dakota drivers know it's important to be prepared for anything from car trouble to a sudden storm, says Ron Holten, a state-licensed driver education instructor in North Dakota.
It's common for drivers to carry survival kits and sleeping bags, which wasn't the case when he lived in central Iowa, Holten says. That's partly because of the weather and partly because lower population density in many areas means you can drive a long way between towns. "Here you've got to be very cognizant of where you're at and possible road conditions," Holten says.
That might be one reason the best selling car in North Dakota isn't a car – it's the big F-150. "I see more all-wheel-drive pickups than anything," Holten says. "If you go to the local grocery store or coffee hour, the men all drive pickups. That's probably necessary for working on the farm anyway."
If pick-ups aren't your speed, you can enjoy North Dakota car culture in another way. In many cities in the state, in spring summer and fall, fans head to the track for auto racing to cheer on their favorite teams and drivers as they zip around the track.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
Drivers can encounter hazards in any area, but urban highways are generally safer than country roads.
Crash statistics show that while only about 25 percent of vehicle travel happens on rural roads, they are the scene of about half of all crash deaths. However, the percentages vary widely by state, which is especially evident in North Dakota.
In fact, North Dakota has the highest percentage of rural-vs.-urban crash fatalities of any state in the country, with a shocking 94 percent of traffic deaths in North Dakota occurring on rural roads.
Various factors, from driver behavior to road features, explain the higher number of deaths on rural roads. For example, seat belt use is generally lower on rural roads, and some North Dakotans neglect to buckle up. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports 83 percent of drivers in North Dakota used a seat belt in 2016, compared with the U.S. average of 90 percent.
Miles Driven in the Peace Garden State
Driving trends, such as the number of miles driven in a state, also affect the number of crashes and the safety of the roads.
The overall trend in the United States toward driving more is evident in North Dakota. In fact, the number of vehicles miles traveled (VMT) per person in the state was 11,241 in 2014.
And the North Dakota traffic fatality rate in 2016 is 1.11 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is lower than the U.S. average of 1.16 fatalities.
North Dakota Gas Prices
While no one wants to spend a bundle filling up the gas tank, there is one upside to higher gas prices. Researchers have found that roads become safer when gas prices increase.
Even when prices aren't astronomical, it pays to conserve gas and save. These gas saving tips could help North Dakota drivers keep more money in their wallets as they take to the roads.
Unemployment Rate in North Dakota
Employment statistics also play a role in road safety. That's because, when people have jobs, they tend to put more miles on their vehicles. So, a high unemployment rate can lead to fewer crashes in a state while a lower unemployment rate can mean more collisions.
North Dakota's unemployment rate is good news from a labor perspective but might have a downside in terms of traffic safety. The unemployment rate for the state of North Dakota was just 2.6 percent in February 2018, extremely low compared with the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.1 percent that same month.
Efforts to Remediate Distracted Driving
There are three types of driving distraction – visual, manual and cognitive, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation. So, distraction can mean glancing away from the road, removing your hands from the wheel or just letting your mind wander.
There's no doubt, though, that technology in general, and smartphones in particular, are one of the biggest causes of distracted driving. In fact, NDOT calls texting the "most alarming distraction" because it takes the driver's attention off the road in all three ways.
To try to address this problem, North Dakota has joined the list of 47 states that ban texting while driving for all drivers. In North Dakota, a driver caught violating the texting ban will pay a $100 fine. Recently, in August 2017, North Dakota broadened its law so that drivers can be fined if they commit a motor vehicle violation while engaging in any type of distracted driving, not just texting.
North Dakota has not completely banned the use of handheld devices while driving. However, teens may not use cell phones or any other type of electronic communication device while behind the wheel. The fine is $20, and drivers age 14 or 15 who break that law also get four points on their license.
Teen Driving Regulations
The North Dakota teen licensing program allows new drivers to gradually gain more freedom as they accrue driving experience.
As a first step, a North Dakota teen may apply for an instruction permit at age 14. To get a permit, a teen must pass a written road rules test and a vision exam. A teen with a permit may drive only with a licensed driver of at least 18, who has a minimum of three years of driving experience, riding in the front passenger seat. While holding the permit, the teen must obtain at least 50 hours of driving practice in varied weather and road conditions. For example, new drivers should practice driving at night, in winter weather and on urban and rural roads.
After holding an instruction permit for at least six months, getting the required practice, and completing a driver education class, a teen may apply for a driver license. To get a license, a teen must pass a driving test behind the wheel.
A teen under age 16 will receive a restricted license and must obey the following rules:
- You may only drive a vehicle owned by your parent, grandparent, legal guardian, sibling, aunt or uncle.
- You may carry only the number of people specified in the car manufacturer's suggested passenger capacity for that vehicle.
- You may not drive between the hours of 9 p.m. (or sunset, if that occurs earlier) and 5 a.m. unless you are driving to or from school, work or a religious activity.
A teen 16 or older will receive a full, unrestricted North Dakota driver license. However, even with an unrestricted license, drivers under age 18 may not use a cell phone while driving except in an emergency.
These rules require enforcement, and this is where mom and dad come in. It's key for parents to monitor teen driving as the new driver learns the rules of the road.
The State of Driving in North Dakota
Driving in North Dakota brings stretches of road, often with little traffic, and long distances between towns. You can also enjoy scenic drives in the state and get a chance to spot folk art and wildlife. But driving in winter and on the state's rural roads can be risky, so be sure you brush up on bad weather driving skills and buckle up when you slide into the driver's seat to experience this beautiful state.