DNR officials stress snowmobile safety as fatal crashes trend up

Published 6:15 am Saturday, December 21, 2019

Heading into the holiday season, conservation officers from the Department of Natural Resources are reminding all snowmobile riders to make safety their priority as the number of fatal crashes around the state has trended upward the past few years.

Three riders have died so far this winter and there have been other close calls, including snowmobiles that have gone through the ice and an instance in which a person was hit while walking on the ice. Last winter, 10 riders lost their lives in snowmobile-related crashes, five died the year before and three people died in 2015-16.

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“We want people enjoying the Minnesota winter, but we want them to do it safely,” said Bruce Lawrence, recreational vehicle coordinator with the DNR’s Enforcement Division.

Snow cover throughout Minnesota, including on many of the 22,000 miles of trails that traverse the state (varying local conditions mean not all are yet groomed), have led to a surge in the number of people taking advantage of a fun and unique way to enjoy Minnesota’s outdoors.

“Passing along your passion for the outdoors is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person,” he said. “By modeling safe behavior, you can ensure that passion lives on in youngsters and new snowmobile riders.”

Lawrence offers the following tips to ensure a safe ride:

• Stay on marked trails – The state’s snowmobile clubs work hard to keep trails in good riding condition. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. In parts of the state, wet conditions where trails go through low areas or across lakes mean trails aren’t yet groomed. Riders should plan ahead and check trail conditions before heading out.

• Leave the booze at home – Drinking and riding is one of two main factors in crashes, and plays a role in about 60 percent of those that are fatal.

• Watch the speed – Going too fast is the other main factor in crashes. Many serious and fatal crashes occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object.

• Be careful on the ice – During the past two winters, every through-the-ice fatality but one has involved people who were riding a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle when they fell through. There must be at least 5 to 7 inches of new, clear ice to support the weight of a snowmobile and rider.

• Take a snowmobile safety course – It’s required of anyone born after 1976 and recommended for everyone. People with snowmobile safety certification are less likely to be involved in serious or fatal crashes.

Additional safety tips can be found here: mndnr.gov/snowmobiling/safety.html.