As with every winter, I always have calls and questions involving people injured in snowmobile accidents around the state. Sometimes, these injuries involve collisions with cars on the road or crossing trails or in parking lots. And sometimes, they are operator only crashes on the snowmobile that do not involve any motor vehicles.
Also, many snowmobile crashes, as with motorcycle crashes, involve speed and alcohol. Combine those dangerous factors with the ice, slippery snow, uncertain terrain in the vast woods and sometimes poorly constructed parking lots, and we have unfortunately many injuries and even deaths every year involving snowmobiles.
Take the numbers into account. There were 39 fatalities from snowmobile accidents in Michigan throughout the last two winter seasons, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
So this year, I wanted to take a moment and share some important safety tips to help prevent these tragic snowmobile accidents:
- Check the weather: Always check the weather conditions before you depart to make sure there are no oncoming storms or dangerously low temperatures that could put you in jeopardy.
- Don’t speed: Speed is a factor in nearly all of the Michigan snowmobile accident fatalities. Slow down and you could save your own life.
- No drinking: As with cars, alcohol impairs judgment and slows reaction time. Stay sober on the trail.
- Good mechanics: Always keep your snowmobile in top mechanical condition. And get it checked out regularly.
- Get the gear!: Make sure your body is protected from the harsh elements and in case of a crash. Wear insulated boots and protective clothing including a helmet, gloves and eye protection.
- Don’t go it alone: Ride in a pack of friends and be aware of each person in the pack to avoid collisions with each other.
- Stay inland: Avoid crossing frozen bodies of water. If you have to cross, never operate in a single file when crossing frozen bodies of water.
- Be aware of obstacles: Always be alert to avoid fences and low strung wires.
- Avoid the road: Never operate on a street or highway and keep an eye out for depressions in the snow.
- Light: Keep headlights and tail lights on at all times.
- Intersection safety: When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off your seat and look for traffic.
Who can ride a snowmobile in Michigan?
Snowmobile safety training is highly recommended for all snowmobile operators. But it is only required legally for riders who are between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the DNR.
By law, you must successfully complete a snowmobile safety course and have a valid snowmobile safety certificate if you are:
- Between 12 and 17 years old and operating a snowmobile without direct supervision of a person 21 years of age.
- Between 12 and 17 years old and crossing a highway or street.
You can search for a snowmobile safety class in your area here.
How does Michigan law work in snowmobile accidents?
Snowmobile accident injuries usually are pretty horrible, and people are pretty frantic on trying to ascertain what insurance claims they can make and how they will pay the medical bills.
In the most important respects, snowmobile accidents are similar to motorcycle accidents, in that you can recover Michigan No Fault insurance benefits if your injuries on a snowmobile involve contact with a motor vehicle.
If they do not, you cannot recover No Fault benefits because snowmobiles are not considered a motor vehicle under Michigan law.
Safe riding in Michigan’s winter wonderland this season everyone. Again, don’t speed or drink when you’re driving your snowmobile.
- Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by bluelemur