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Monday, January 9, 2012

Snowmobile Safety

Winter is here and one of the more popular wintertime activities is snowmobiling. Snowmobiling has grown in popularity because snowmobiles aren't limited to ski resorts or skating rinks. Snowmobiles are large, powerful machines, weighing around 600 pounds and capable of obtaining speeds up to 90 mph and, just as with any other type of motor vehicle, snowmobiles have their dangerous side. Unlike other motor vehicles with seat belts and roll cages, the only protection available on snowmobiles is a small windscreen.

National figures are hard to come by but one study estimates that there are up to 14,000 injuries and 200 deaths per year in the US. Several states publish annual statistics on snowmobile incidents and they can provide some idea of the number of serious incidents involving snowmobiles each year.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) post injury and fatality figures for each snow season. From 1997 through 2010, New York there were a total of 4,946 snowmobiling collisions with 216 fatalities.

During the 2009 – 2010 season there were 294 reported accidents resulting in 237 injuries, and 14 fatalities.

Out of those 294 incidents in 2009-2010:
  • Unsafe speed, riding too fast for weather and/or trail conditions was listed as the most common cause of most of the incidents.
  • More than 76 percent of the recorded incidents resulted in collisions, most often with trees.
  • After collisions with other objects, the next most common reason for injuries was falling off the vehicle.
  • Twelve percent of the snowmobile incidents involved the use of alcohol.
  • Alcohol use was involved in 43 percent of the fatal incidents.
  • Almost half of the fatalities occurred on straight roadways.
  • Sixty four percent of the fatalities occurred in clear weather conditions.
  • Males, between the ages of 19 and 30 made up the largest portion of snowmobile operators.
  • The most dangerous months for snowmobile incidents are January and February.

Among all states reporting, a surprising number of snowmobile operators drowned while attempting to cross a frozen lake or stream.

To stay safe the OPRHP Snowmobile Unit recommends that snowmobilers:
  • Complete a NYS Snowmobile Safety Course. This course helps establish a safety mindset and provides basic knowledge in safe, legal and ethical operation. Visit www.nysparks.com to find a course near you.
  • Use the highest degree of caution while traveling across frozen waterways. Check local ice conditions, carry or wear a floatation device, limit travel at night and if you DON'T KNOW, DON'T GO.
  • Use the buddy system; never ride alone.
  • Don't drink and ride. Alcohol affects a person’s reaction time and judgment. Wait until you're done riding for the day before consuming any alcoholic beverages. If not for yourself, do it for your family and friends.
  • Slow down. High speed operation leaves little room for mistakes and greatly increases stopping distances. Many snowmobile fatalities could have been prevented if the operators were only going slower.
  • Nighttime speeds above 40 mph cause operators to override their headlamps. At this speed, operators have little chance of avoiding a hazard once it is illuminated by their headlamps.
  • When riding in groups, always maintain a safe following distance of 2-3 seconds. Increase your following distance when travelling at night or when experiencing snow dust.
  • Respect private property. The majority of the snowmobile trails in NY are on private property. Snowmobile clubs invest much time and effort to set up agreements with landowners each year. Riding outside the marked trails on private property is trespassing and has caused landowners to close their properties to trails, sometimes forever. Stay within the marked trails and don't cut corners.

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