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Alcohol and Speed are the Top Factors in Snowmobile Fatalities
By: Deutschmann Personal Injury & Disability Law (Lawyers) | Published 02/16/2020
The OPP released their 10-year trend analysis and the results are ‘grim’ according to the police. Nearly 50% of the fatalities on snow machines in Ontario in the last decade occurred on frozen lakes and rivers. Almost Half (45%) involved alcohol or drugs. These risk-taking behaviors are taking lives unnecessarily
With a third of the deaths in Central Region it appears that many of us are heading to cottage country to ride our machines and are doing so unsafely. In the last 10 years 175 people have died while participating in a recreational activity. Sgt. Paul Potter described the statistic as ‘very grim’.
Other contributing factors to the deaths include excessive speeds. According to Sgt Potter not driving to speeds and conditions combined with impaired driving becomes a deadly mix. If speed and alcohol were removed from the ride, then there would be far fewer deaths on the trails.
Another area of concern is the number of deaths on lakes and rivers which occurred directly as a result of ‘puddle jumping’. This is a game where riders intentionally driving onto open water and ‘jump’ from ice surface to ice surface. Incidents of breaking through the ice, collisions with other snowmobiles, or hitting natural landmarks such as trees and rocks are high. This behavior is extremely risky not only for the riders but for the rescue personnel as well.
The OPP have released press statements indicating that they have a regular presence on trails and do enforcement campaigns like RIDE stops. Ontario’s trail associations who maintain thousands of kilometres of marked trails remind all riders to stay on the marked routes and off roads and fields that aren’t part of the trail systems.
It’s easy to find up to date trail conditions online for the province.
Consensus among police, fire and rescue is consistent – driver behavior needs to be changed. The trails and machines aren’t the problem. The drivers are the problem.
You can find information on snowmobile safety here.
Everyone who drives a snowmobile in Ontario must:
· be at least 12 years old
· have a valid driver's licence or motorized snow vehicle operator's licence (see below)
· register the snowmobile with the Ministry of Transportation
· have insurance
Where you can drive a snowmobile depends on your age and the licence you hold.
Licensing & document requirements
Drivers must carry the following documents with them at all times:
· your driver's licence, a valid motorized snow vehicle operator's licence (
· snowmobile registration permit
· insurance card
If you don't have a driver's licence and you're 12 years of age or older, a valid MSVOL program or visit the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs website.
Failing to produce any of these documents to a police officer or conservation officer when asked could result in a fine of up to $1,000.
Where to ride
You CAN ride:
· on your own property
· on private trails belonging to organizations of which you are a member
· on private property, with the owner's permission
· alongside public roads, between the shoulder and fence line (unless prohibited by the municipality)
You CAN'T ride:
· on certain high-speed roads (400-series highways, Queen Elizabeth Way, Ottawa Queensway, Kitchener-Waterloo Expressway)
· on the pavement of public roads where vehicles drive
· on the ploughed portion of the shoulder
Check with each municipality on snowmobile by-laws for roads within its boundaries.
Ontario's snowmobile trail system is maintained by many local snowmobile clubs.
Trails are patrolled by:
· the Ontario Provincial Police
· municipal police services
· conservation officers
· Snowmobile Trail Officer Patrol (STOP) officers
Some trails may require a trail permit. Check with the local snowmobile club to find out if you need one.
For trails maintained by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, you must have and display a valid trail permit affixed to the windshield or engine cowling of your snowmobile. This includes trails on private property, municipal property and land owned by the government.
Rules of the road
Snowmobiles may not be operated at a greater rate of speed than:
· 50 km/h - on snowmobile trails
· 50 km/h - on roads where the speed limit is over 50 km/h
· 20 km/h - on roads where the speed limit is 50 km/h or less
· 20 km/h - in any public park or exhibition grounds
Drivers and passengers must always wear a snowmobile helmet that meets the standards approved for motorcycle helmets, with the chin strap securely fastened. Everyone who rides on a cutter, sled or similar device towed by a snowmobile must also wear a helmet.
You must use a rigid tow-bar when towing a sled or similar device behind a snowmobile.
Driving while impaired
Never drive impaired by alcohol or drugs. It is against the law.
Alcohol, illegal drugs, even prescription and some over-the-counter drugs can slow your reaction time and affect your ability to make good decisions.
If your BAC is 0.05 to 0.08 or you are impaired by a drug or a combination of a drug and alcohol (based on the results of a Standard Field Sobriety Test), your licence could be suspended on the spot for up to 30 days.
If you are impaired with a BAC over 0.08, or if you fail or refuse to comply with alcohol or drug testing or you are impaired by a drug or a combination of a drug and alcohol (based on a Drug Recognition Expert evaluation), your licence could be suspended on the spot for up to 90 days. You may also be charged with impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.
If you are convicted of impaired driving on a snowmobile, you will lose your driving privileges for ALL TYPES of vehicles for at least one year. This includes cars, trucks motorcycles and commercial vehicles.
For more information on impaired driving and its consequences in Ontario, visit Ontario.ca/drivesober.
Planning a trip
Before you leave
· fill up your gas tank
· check the weather forecast before heading out.
· contact the local snowmobile club to check trail and ice conditions
· dress appropriately - wear clothing in layers, and make your top layer a snowmobile suit or other windproof layer
· tell someone :
· where you're going
· the route you will take
· a description of your snowmobile
· when you expect to return
· never travel alone
Remember: Exposure to extreme cold can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Your risk goes up as the temperature goes down.
· Wind chill at or below -25¡C: risk of frostbite to exposed skin
· Wind chill at or below -35¡C: frostbite in 10 minutes or less
· Wind chill at or below -60¡C: frostbite in less than 2 minutes
What to bring
Pack a snowmobile survival kit that includes:
· first aid kit
· GPS unit, trail map and compass
· matches (or lighter) in a waterproof container
· knife, saw or axe
· ice picks (if you must cross over a frozen river or lake)
· high-energy food like nuts or granola bars
· an extra set of dry clothing
You should also bring a snowmobile mechanical kit that includes:
· spare spark plug and drive belt
· tow rope
· screwdriver, wrenches and hammer
· owner's manual
While you are driving
· always drive within your ability
· take extra care on corners and hills
· obey speed limits and road/trail signs
· always stay on the right-hand side of the trail
· use appropriate hand signals before stopping, slowing down or turning
· take extra care at road and rail crossings - cross roads at designated crossings and at a 90-degree angle so you can cross safely and quickly
· never ride on private property without permission of the land owner
Driving at night
· reduce your speed - some hazards are harder to see in the dark
· use your headlights and drive at a speed where they can shine ahead of you
· wear clothing that has reflective markings so that you are more visible to others
Driving on ice
· avoid driving on unfamiliar frozen lakes and rivers, as open water may not be visible
· if you must drive over ice, wear a buoyant snowmobile suit
· always drive on ice that is new, hard and clear
· never drive on ice that is slushy, weak, near moving water or that has recently thawed and refrozen
· check ice conditions with the local snowmobile club before you head out