As cars became more in vogue, cities started to develop traffic laws. On this date in 1940, residents of Bismarck were patting themselves on the back for changes they made to regulate traffic.
A report done by the Bismarck Safety and Courtesy Committee came out around this time stating that 80 percent of traffic accidents that occurred in the city were due to excessive speed, especially under unfavorable weather and light conditions.
The report examined traffic accidents from 1939 and the first two months of 1940, comparing them with incidents in 1938. There were 221 accidents in 1938, but only 150 over the next 14 months.
The Safety and Courtesy Committee attributed this change to the rigid enforcement of traffic laws by the police and the courts. This included police magistrate Olgeirson’s policy of fining speeders one dollar for every mile-per-hour over the speed limit.
The Chief of Police credited the Committee as well, pointing out that in 1938, many accidents had occurred around business areas. Since then, the committee had been formed, and their efforts helped ease that concentration of accidents. The council stated: “There is no excuse for drivers not knowing what the traffic laws are. If they are in doubt, they can ascertain restrictions by calling the police department or the state Highway Patrol.”
Of course, the Safety and Courtesy Committee couldn’t take into account what sort of road rage might rock the streets. A man making a left turn accidentally brushed up against a pedestrian. Understandably upset, the pedestrian “hurled a hammer through the back window” of the car when it failed to stop. The hammer did the trick—the driver got out of the car, and a fist fight ensued.
Excessive speeds in poor conditions may have been the greatest danger on the road, but there’s no denying the dangers of a sideswiping car or a flying hammer.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Bismarck Tribune, March 14, 1940