Snowmobile Safety and Rules - An important refresher as we see the first good accumulations of snow

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The first significant snowfalls are coming for the traditional snowbelt in Ontario and the farther north has already had steady accumulations. With the snow come the snowmobiles on the trails and roads of Ontario. It’s a good time to touch on snowmobile safety tips whether you are a new or seasoned rider.

Many people ride their snowmobiles recreationally on private lands or the trail networks in Ontario. Some municipalities allow the use of snowmobiles on the roadways. Any snowbobile that is ridden on public lands or trails or roads must carry auto insurance. A driver licence is also required to ride on public lands, roadways and trails. If you only ever ride on your own property then you do not need a licence or insurance.

The use of snowmobiles is subject ot he the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act and as a rider or driver of the device your responsible to understand and uphold the law. The MVSA and regulations prescribe the rules for owning and riding. The Go Snowmobliing Ontario site is a great source of information on riding and trails and permits in Ontairo.

Here are some basic safety tip from the MTO for riding:

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)
  • flashlight
  • whistle
  • 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

 

Pursuant to the legislation the following rules apply:

Driver requirements

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.

Drivers must carry the following documents with them at all times:

  • your driver's licence, a valid motorized snow vehicle operator's licence (MSVOL) or a snowmobile driver's licence from another jurisdiction
  • 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 will allow you to drive a snowmobile on trails. Contact your local snowmobile club to get more information about the 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.

Your age and licence

Where you can drive

Age 16 and over WITH a valid Ontario driver's licence, MSVOL or snowmobile licence from another jurisdiction

  • Snowmobile trails
  • Across a road, where permitted
  • On roadways, where permitted

Age 12 years or older WITH a valid MSVOL or a licence from another jurisdiction

Snowmobile trails only

Any age with no valid Ontario driver's licence, MSVOL or snowmobile licence from another jurisdiction

Private property only

Under age 12

Private property only

Where snowmobile riders can drive, depending on their age and type of driver's licence.

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.

Snowmobile trails

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

Speed limits

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

Helmets

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.

Towing

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.

Penalties

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.