Last updated Feb. 15, 2018.
Snowmobiling is a popular activity in Ontario, owing to our abundant snow and trails. In fact, the 2010 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report indicated there were more than 310,000 registered snowmobiles that year in Ontario.
Unfortunately, this recreational activity and mode of transportation is not without hazard. The same safety report listed 27 fatalities for the 2009-2010 winter season and 193 people who suffered injuries. Those statistics include both drivers and passengers.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), over 5,600 Canadians are hurt each year while participating in winter activities. The study found that we are more than twice as likely to sustain injuries from activities like skiing and snowboarding when compared to playing hockey. Other activities likely to cause injury are skating, snowmobiling and tobogganing. Most often hurt in winter activities are boys aged 10 to 19.
Greg Webster, director of Primary Health Care Information and Clinical Registries at CIHI, said the injuries require at least one night’s hospital stay but do not include visits that involve only the emergency department or a doctor’s office, or deaths at the scene.
In the interest of preventing snowmobile accidents and increasing rider/operator safety, please review the seven safety tips outlined below.
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1. Dress for the weather
Snowmobile safety isn’t just about avoiding accidents and collisions. It is vital to dress for the weather to avoid health hazards such as frostbite and hypothermia. This is especially relevant in consideration of situations in which your vehicle may become disabled, requiring you to walk or wait for assistance. Wear insulated boots and layers that allow free range of motion.
2. Wear protective clothing
Always wear protective gear such as a helmet and eyewear. Be certain all clothing allows a clear, unobstructed field of vision.
3. Do not drink and ride
Operating a snowmobile requires quick reflexes and an alert driver who is paying full attention to his or her surroundings. Alcohol or illegal and controlled substances can slow reaction time or otherwise interfere with an operator’s sense of control. Alcohol consumption was indicated in nearly one-fifth of snowmobile accidents in the 2009/2010 season. Alcohol also has the effect of lowering body temperature at a rapid rate, making operators and passengers more susceptible to cold weather.
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4. Be on the lookout for unexpected obstacles and hazards
When operating a snowmobile, be alert for potential hazards and dangerous obstacles such as tree branches, open water, oncoming snowmobiles, cars, bridges, wildlife (deer, raccoons, etc.), snow banks/drifts, and objects obscured by the snow.
5. Be especially careful at intersections and crossways
Just as with driving an automobile, safe snowmobile operation comes with “rules of the trail,” which include exercising due caution at all intersections. This includes spots where the trail intersects with roads and other trails. Use special caution at railway crossings and stops.
6. Take a snowmobile safety course
Snowmobile operation requires a special set of skills. Driving conditions can change quickly and present a variety of challenges, such as low visibility and unexpected hazards. A snowmobile driving class may help you better anticipate and prepare for potential hazards and challenging operating conditions.
7. Know what you’re getting into on Ontario snowmobile trails
Review trail maps and weather conditions prior to each ride to better understand your route and potential challenges. Do not ride in adverse weather, such as ice storms or blizzards. Understand the nature of the trail before heading out so you know whether to be aware of special considerations, such as hikers or cross-country skiers.
For more winter safety tips, check out our article about how to avoid a slip, trip and fall in inclement winter weather. And if you’re ever injured in a snowmobile accident, the Preszler Law Firm can help: 1-800-JUSTICE®.