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Grand Forks passes texting and driving ban; New ordinance to start Oct. 15

Starting Oct. 15, texting and driving in Grand Forks could get you a $15 ticket, according to a new law the City Council passed today.

"Could" is the key because council members supporting the law said they just want Grand Forks Police officers to be able to stop drivers and educate them about the dangers of the practice, which some researchers say is worse than drinking and driving.

"I don't think the money is the issue, really," said Council President Hal Gershman, who has championed the law for most of the summer.

Education is also why the law won't go into effect for more than a month.

Originally, the proposed law set the fine at $30, but council members worried this would be over a limit imposed by the state Supreme Court, allowing those ticketed to demand a jury trial, which could be expensive.

As it stands, the law would ban sending text messages, e-mailing and accessing the Internet from behind the wheel, with the exception of emergency responders, those reporting emergencies, those using GPS devices and those using hands-free phones.

Some council members had wanted the law to include any behavior that caused distracted driving, such as reading a newspaper. Gershman and those that side with him objected to the vagueness.

"An ordinance that's simple, direct may be the best way to go," he said.

Council member Tyrone Grandstrand, who had been in favor of a broader law, now said he can see the potential for confusion. He said he wouldn't want to ban talking on the phone or combing your hair or eating a burger while driving, things that may be a bit distracting, but is not sufficiently dangerous to require a law.

Council member Doug Christensen, who has been ambivalent about the ban, said that, if the city's going to ban texting and driving, it should get its state legislative delegation to propose a statewide ban. Two previous statewide ban proposals have failed in the Legislature. Christensen said police should also record on traffic accident reports whether texting was involved.

All council members except Terry Bjerke, who favored a ban on distracted driving, supported the texting and driving ban.