Despite bitter cold temperatures, thousands of Ontarians annually bundle up and hit the snowmobile trails. Snowmobiling has become an increasingly popular family recreational activity. Like all recreational pursuits, snowmobiles present a risk if precautions are not followed.
The Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs have launched a safety initiative to raise awareness about the potential dangers of this sport. Last winter, there were 15 snowmobile fatalities in Ontario. This compares to 21 deaths in the 2013-14 season and 18 in the 2012-13 season. Negligence continues to play a major role.
Impaired driving, speeding, and driving after dark are the major factors:
- 58 per cent of snowmobile-related fatalities involved alcohol or drugs
- 57 per cent involved speeding or riding too fast for conditions
- 58 per cent occurred at dusk or after dark
Further, 87 per cent of last season’s snowmobile-related fatalities involved male riders and 58 per cent were riders or passengers between the ages of 35 and 54.
The Ministry of Transportation has devoted a section of its website on safe and responsible snowmobiling. It offers information on driver requirements, where to ride, rules of the road, the repercussions of driving while impaired, and planning a trip.
CBC News posted an article last February following a fatality in the Cornwall area. An OPP officer (Sgt. Dave Rektor) stated what appears to be an obvious fact that is often ignored:
“It’s not a toy. It’s a machine, capable of reaching high speeds and causing injury or death if not used properly.” He warned that most of these accidents occur when riders leave trails and that young people need to be properly trained. “Often times we see young children driving these which just makes us shake our heads.”
Anyone under the age of 12 can drive a snowmobile on private property; anyone 12 years old and older with a motorized snow vehicle operator’s licence can drive on trails; and anyone 16 years and older with either a valid driver’s license or snow vehicle licence can drive on trails, across a road and on roadways where permitted.
There is actually a snowmobiler’s code of ethics that can be found on the MTO website to promote respectable, fun, and safe winter recreation:
1. I will be a good sportsperson and conservationist. I recognize that people judge all snowmobilers by my actions. I will use my influence with other snowmobilers to promote responsible conduct.
2. I will not litter trails or camping areas. I will not pollute lakes or streams. I will carry out what I carried in.
3. I will not damage living trees, shrubs or other natural features.
4. I will respect other people’s property and rights.
5. I will lend a helping hand when I see someone in distress.
6. I will make myself and my snowmobile available to assist in search-and-rescue operations.
7. I will not interfere with or harass hikers, skiers, snowshoers, people who are ice fishing or participating in other winter sports. I will respect their rights to enjoy recreation facilities.
8. I will know and obey all federal, provincial and local rules regulating the operation of snowmobiles in areas where I use my snowmobile.
9. I will not harass wildlife. I will avoid areas posted for the protection of wildlife.
10. I will not drive where snowmobiles are prohibited.