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With snow on the ground, safety is key

Despite the fact that there has been little to no snow on the ground, there comes a time every year in Minnesota to talk about snowmobile safety.

Gov. Mark Dayton, with the support of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association (MnUSA), has proclaimed Jan. 15-21 as Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week.

“We see the excitement to ride building up as people wait for that first ‘good’ snow of the season to arrive,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Education Program coordinator. “We see a lot of pent up riding excitement during these low-snow seasons. Our concern is all of the anxious snowmobilers suddenly hitting the trails at once when that good snow finally arrives.”

To legally ride a snowmobile in Minnesota, residents born after Dec. 31, 1976, need a valid snowmobile safety certificate.

More than 1,800 volunteer instructors teach DNR snowmobile safety courses across the state. For more information on the dates and locations of these courses, visit the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us or call 800-366-8917.

DNR and MnUSA remind snowmobilers of a few basic safety tips:

—Don’t drink and drive – Drinking and driving can be fatal. Alcohol can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking may drive too fast or race across unsafe ice. Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, increasing the likelihood of hypothermia.

—Slow down – Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should drive at a pace that allows ample reaction time for any situation. When driving at night, a speed of 40 miles an hour may result in “over driving” the headlight, so the driver can’t react in time to avoid danger.

—Be prepared – When traveling, bring a first-aid kit, a flashlight, waterproof matches, and a compass.

—Stay alert – Fatigue can reduce coordination and judgment.

—Watch for ice – Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness. Snow cover can act as a blanket to prevent safe ice from forming. Never travel in a single file when crossing bodies of water.

—Use proper gear – Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice and flying debris. Clothing should be worn in layers and should be snug enough so that no loose ends catch in the machine.

—Be aware of weather – Rapid weather changes can produce dangerous conditions.

—Bring a buddy – Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in some personal injury. If traveling alone, tell someone the destination, planned route and expected return time.

Report accidents – Snowmobile operators involved in accidents resulting in medical attention, death or damage exceeding $500 must file an official accident report through the county sheriff’s office within 10 days.

For a copy of DNR’s 2011-2012 Minnesota Snowmobile Safety Laws, Rules and Regulations handbook, call 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367. It’s also available on the DNR’s website.