Wisconsin Personal Injury Blog

Dec
30
2013

Parents: Keep Your Young Snowmobilers Safe with these Tips

Snowmobiling got its start in the state of Wisconsin, where 200,000 snowmobiles are registered. Thousands of people of all ages will ride on the state’s network of more than 25,000 designated trails this winter. Snowmobiling can be great fun, but parents should make sure their snowmobiling children stay safe.

The state of Wisconsin requires snowmobile riders born on or after Jan. 1, 1985, and who are at least 12 years old to complete a safety certification course unless they go snowmobiling on private land. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to operate snowmobiles on Wisconsin public lands without a parent or guardian riding with them on the vehicle.  Kids under 16 must complete a snowmobile safety class to ride legally on public trails and roads.

The reason for these rules is clear: In the 2011-2012 season, 10 people died in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes, and 73 injury accidents were reported. In January 2012, a 6-year-old child was injured in a snowmobile wreck that killed the driver. The child was riding on the back of the snowmobile and did not have a helmet.

Tips for Riders

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers the following safety tips for all snowmobile riders:

  • Stay sober. Alcohol plays a role in many snowmobile crashes.
  • Don’t speed. Almost all fatal snowmobile accidents involve excessive speed. Keep a steady pace and give yourself time to react to hazards on the trail, especially after sunset.
  • Dress warmly and carry a first aid kit. If you are injured in a snowmobile wreck, staying warm and having the means to administer first aid may save your life.
  • Avoid creeks, rivers, and lakes. Snowmobiles are heavy and can fall through thin ice. Do not ride on frozen bodies of water; it is hard to tell how thick the ice is, and a snowmobile accident on a frozen pond or river can be fatal.
  • Stay on the trail. Heavy snow can hide fences, downed trees, and other obstacles that can cause a snowmobile to flip over, spin out of control, or crash. Marked snowmobile trails are kept clear of obstructions and are the safest place to ride.
  • Take your friends. Never go snowmobiling alone. If you are hurt in a snowmobile accident, it is critical to have others to help you and get emergency medical assistance right away.

Preteen snowmobile riders are especially vulnerable. The American Council of Snowmobile Associations has safety recommendations to keep young riders from being hurt or killed in snowmobile wrecks.

Tips for Parents

Hints for teen and preteen snowmobilers and their parents include:

  • If riding with a child on a snowmobile, place the kid behind the rider, not in front.
  • Make sure that children who ride snowmobiles have well-fitting helmets and safety gear. An oversized adult helmet is not sufficient to keep a child safe.
  • Put young riders on vehicles that fit. Adult snowmobiles are unsafe for preteens because they are more difficult to steer and control, and their engines are too powerful.
  • Adult riders should keep the pace slow. Kids need to ride snowmobiles at an easy pace in order to avoid crashes and loss of control.
  • Get the kids into snowmobile safety classes. Official snowmobile safety training is essential for young riders.

The Wisconsin Medical Journal concluded that male riders are injured in more snowmobile accidents than female riders. This held true for preteens as well — boys were hurt in snowmobiling wrecks more than four times as frequently as girls. From 1998 to 2002, 14% of snowmobile crash hospitalizations involved children.

Although some snowmobile enthusiasts believe that preteens and children can ride safely, some medical safety advocates disagree. Caring for Kids, an association of Canadian pediatricians, states that kids under the age of 16 should not ride snowmobiles at all due to the risk of crash injury or death.

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