Snowmobilers reminded of safety tips

Seven fatal snowmobile accidents in 2009 have prompted safety officials to remind snomobilers to slow down, stay sober and follow other safety tips.

"Snowmobiling offers a great way to get outside and enjoy family, friends and our beautiful scenery, but everyone needs to remember to operate with a safety mindset," says Gary Eddy, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources snowmobile safety administrator.

"Don't operate at excessive speeds, keep a safe distance between sleds in a group, be extra cautious at night, and perhaps most importantly, limit alcohol use. The best policy is to wait to drink until you're done riding."

Record-breaking snows in many parts of the state have lured Wisconsin residents and visitors to the snowmobile trails en force, with the vast majority returning home safely.

However, 13 people have died in snowmobile accidents so far this season, compared to nine a year ago and one at this time in the 2006-2007 season.

"Speed, alcohol and nighttime use - outdriving headlights -- are the main recurring factors every year," Eddy says. "We're also seeing an increase in head-on collisions and accidents among snowmobiles in the same group."

DNR wardens are currently investigating head-on collisions that occurred over the weekend and claimed four lives, one in Price County and three in Vilas County. "Operators are reminded that state law requires them to stay on the right side of the trail and proceed with caution when meeting oncoming traffic on the trail," Eddy says.

Snowmobilers riding in a group need to keep enough distance between themselves to stop safely if they see a hazard, and to use extra caution on corners and hills, Eddy says.

And snowmobilers need to remember to travel at a speed commensurate with their skill, knowledge of the trail, and visibility conditions, particularly at night.

Snowmobile lights shine out only to 200 feet, so snowmobilers need to travel at a slow enough speed to allow them time to react when their headlights illuminate a hazard. The DNR recommends snowmobilers do not exceed 45 mph at night under normal conditions to avoid overriding their headlights.

State law sets a 55 mph speed limit from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise.

More information about the new law as well as snowmobile safety tips, snowmobile regulations and other information is available on the snowmobile safety education pages of the DNR Web site.