Meteorologists are predicting that the U.S. will experience a cold, snowy 2010/2011 winter stretching from the Pacific Northwest across the northern Plains to the western Great Lakes. But what can be bad news for commuters is great news for winter sports enthusiasts, including America’s snowmobilers. In 2009, there were some 1.65 million snowmobiles registered in the U.S. As the popularity of the sport continues to grow, so do the number of accidents involving property damage, injuries and death. Before you take to the trails this winter, make sure you have adequate snowmobile insurance and are up to speed on snowmobile safety.
Every state has its own rules for operating a snowmobile, including regulations about driver’s license and insurance requirements and the conditions under which the requirements apply. Check with your state’s department of motor vehicles to learn about specifics where you live. Many states do restrict operation of snowmobiles on public property to licensed operators over 16; a few require that you obtain a snowmobile safety certificate as a prerequisite to operation. Where snowmobile insurance is required, it tends to mirror the state’s minimum auto liability coverage limits.
Whether or not your state requires snowmobile insurance or safety certificates, both are something you should seriously consider. The average snowmobile weighs in at 600 pounds and is capable of operating at 90mph or more. The impact of anything that heavy going that fast and colliding with another object is devastating. It’s difficult to find current national statistics, but in 1995, there were 16,226 snowmobile-related injuries across all age groups, with 20% happening to those under 16. The average cost per injury back then was just under $8,000! And that doesn’t take into account damages to vehicles or property. The typical snowmobile insurance policy would cover both bodily injury and property damage.
Most accidents are attributed to speed and alcohol, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA). Consuming alcohol while operating any vehicle is a dumb idea, but with snowmobiling, you also run the risk of hypothermia. Driving at night and drowning also contribute to snowmobile accidents and fatalities.
In addition to carry snowmobile insurance coverage, you can take some sensible steps to prevent accidents and injuries.
- Wear helmets and goggles or face shields, along with layers of insulated, water-repellent clothing.
- Stick to the groomed and marked trails.
- Let somebody know where you’re going and when you plan to return.
- Avoid snowmobiling solo.
- Carry a first-aid kit and basic survival tools including flashlight, signaling device, compass and matches.
- Travel at speeds that are safe for the conditions and time of day.
- Avoid crossing bodies of water.
- Be aware of avalanche warnings, road crossings, other vehicles, pedestrians and skiers.