Recent snowfall will likely bring out more Minnesota snowmobilers and that means there’s an increased chance of an accident, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
There were six snowmobile-related deaths in Minnesota during the 2012 snowmobile season. That compares to 13 fatalities in 2011 and 19 fatalities in 2010.
The usual causes of snowmobile accidents are operator inexperience, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and high speeds.
“Snowmobiles can travel as fast, or faster, than an automobile, and require every bit as much or more experience to operate,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR enforcement education program coordinator. The speed limit for all snowmobile trails and public lands and waters is 50 miles per hour.
Hammer noted that today’s sleds can easily do 70, if not 100, miles per hour. Unfortunately, they don’t stop like a vehicle or offer the same protection.
“Speed kills and that is a fact with snowmobiles,” said Hammer.
Going too fast can also cause snowmobile drivers to "overdrive" their snowmobile's headlight. Even at 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than the headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp finally illuminated the hole in the ice.
Snowmobilers also need to be alert on all trails. They might not realize trails go over ponds or lakes where the ice might not be formed yet.
Many accidents also happen when snowmobiles collide with fixed objects such as trees, fences, stumps, rocks, logs and culverts. Often these objects are partially or completely hidden by snow. Snowmobilers sometimes hit one of these before they see it.
“Always be on the lookout for hidden wires, especially in areas that may have been farmed at one time or another,” Hammer said. “Too many accidents have been caused by running into wires in fields, guide wires next to poles and roads, barbed wire and chains used as road closures. Particularly in unfamiliar areas, you must drive at a speed which will allow you to stop quickly.”
Minnesota residents born after Dec. 31, 1976, must complete a DNR snowmobile safety training course before they can legally ride a snowmobile anywhere in Minnesota, including private land.
By taking a snowmobile safety course, students learn about the machine, laws, safe operation, ethics of the sport and how to avoid the most common causes of snowmobile accidents, Hammer said.
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DNR snowmobile safety courses can be completed by either attending a snowmobile safety training course from a DNR-certified instructor or by CD.
To obtain the Snowmobile Safety Training CD, or for general information, call 651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367, 800-366-8917 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than 1,800 volunteer instructors teach DNR snowmobile safety courses across the state. For more information on the dates and locations of these courses, visit the DNR website: www.mndnr.gov or call toll-free 800-366-8917.