Snowmobile Safety – Avoiding Injuries
Riding snowmobiles is one of the more popular winter sports, with 660,000 registered snowmobiles across Canada. Unfortunately it is also a dangerous sport, with numerous accidents and personal injuries every winter – an average of 40 people visit emergency rooms each day for snowmobile-related injuries during the season.
Most snowmobile accidents result in a personal injury. Because of the nature of the sport, head and neck injuries can be common, and also quite serious. The causes of the accidents vary – they can range from drinking and riding to low-hanging branches and wires to avalanches to falling through ice. In cases of fatal injuries, the most common cause is falling through ice, although in children the most common fatal injury is trauma to the head and neck.
In the province of Ontario, riders over 16 years of age can use their driver’s license to legally ride a snowmobile. If you are between the ages of 12 and 15, or do not have a legal driver’s license, you are required to get an operator’s license. To do this, you must take a snowmobile driver’s training course covering safe operation, maintenance, and driving. This course is offered by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs.
The use of snowmobiles in Ontario is also regulated to prevent accidents and personal injuries by the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act. These snowmobiling rules and regulations include:
- A 50 kph speed limit on trails, which can be raised or lowered by municipal bylaw.
- A valid trail permit displayed on any snowmobile on a proscribed trail.
- Sufficient lighting for use during nighttime or inclement weather.
- Wearing helmets unless on your own private property.
- The snowmobile being registered and insured, unless you are using it only on your own private property.
As with most winter sports and activities, it is better to prevent a snowmobile accident than to deal with a personal injury afterwards. Outside of the regulations, best safe riding practices include:
- Always keeping your snowmobile maintained in top condition. This is vital to prevent accidents caused by malfunctions.
- Travelling at a safe speed you know you can handle. With snowmobiles capable of speeds up to 72 kph, a high-speed accident can cause serious personal injuries, and even death. Likewise, avoid racing.
- Not drinking before, or during, riding opportunities.
- Travelling with company in case an accident or incident should happen away from a settled area. Telling somebody in advance where you are going and when you are expecting to be there is also important. Likewise, it is good to stay on marked trails where you can be easily found in case of a mishap.
- Wearing clothing appropriate for snowmobiling. This includes warm mitts or gloves, warm waterproof boots, and dressing in warm layers with a waterproof outer layer.
- Carry a safety kit in case of accidents or incidents. This should include a flashlight, compass, matches, tool kit, and first aid kit.
- Avoiding crossing bodies of water. It is very easy for ice to be unsafe, and for the snowmobile and rider to fall through. As mentioned above, this is the most common cause of fatal injury, in part because the warm clothing required can add as much as 65 lbs. of weight to the rider when soaked.
If you have been in a snowmobile accident and suffered a personal injury, you are likely due compensation, although where this compensation comes from may vary on the nature of the accident. If your accident occurred due to a collision with another snowmobile, or a second party was otherwise involved, they may be liability. Alternately, if your accident occurred while you were alone, and nobody else was involved, any compensation would come from your own insurance company.
Unlike automobiles, not all snowmobiles are insured. As mentioned above, if a snowmobile is only being used on its owner’s private land, no insurance is necessary. In such a case, compensation is still possible.
As with all winter sports and activities, snowmobiles can cause serious personal injuries resulting in months of painful recovery and legal wrangling. Your first line of defence is prevention – to avoid snowmobile accidents in the first place.