GAYLORD, MI. — As snowmobilers head north to enjoy one of the state’s most popular winter outdoor activities, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone to ride at a safe speed, ride on the right side of the trail and ride sober. It’s all part of the DNR’s “Ride Right” snowmobile safety campaign, introduced last year. The department also is working with local law enforcement agencies to conduct snowmobile safety and sound patrols.
“We see a lot of accidents early in the season when people aren’t used to the snow,” said Lt. Jim Gorno, law enforcement supervisor at the DNR Customer Service Center in Gaylord. “When the first snow falls, people get excited. Take time to make sure you’re comfortable with the conditions and your machine.”
Lt. Jerry Fitzgibbon, the DNR’s acting law enforcement supervisor for the eastern Upper Peninsula, said the department wants the public to be aware of the increased patrols. “We would rather tell people ahead of time that we will be conducting snowmobile patrols, hoping that they will slow down, instead of responding to an accident,” Fitzgibbon said.
Snowstorms during the 2018-19 season kept conservation officers busy, responding to many situations involving stranded snowmobilers. There have been four snowmobile fatalities so far during the 2019-20 season.
“Conditions change year to year and day to day,” said Fitzgibbon. “You can go out on a smooth trail and come home on the same trail, full of obstacles hidden under the snow. Slow down so you have enough space to stop with a clear distance. If you’re going too fast to maintain control of your snowmobile, you’re going too fast – whether it’s 10 or 100 mph.”
During the 2017-18 snowmobile season, 80% of snowmobile accidents and deaths reported in the Upper Peninsula were caused by high speed, according to the Michigan Region 8 Trauma Network.
“Excessive speed, drugs and alcohol are among the top contributing factors for snowmobile accidents and fatalities,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, who manages the DNR’s recreational safety, education and enforcement programs. He encouraged all snowmobilers to follow basic safety reminders:
¦ Ride within your limits.
¦ Keep your machine maintained.
¦ Ride sober and ride on the right side of the trail.
¦ Stay on the trail and be careful not to trespass on private property.
Additionally, several snowmobile trails already have been hit this season with ice storms and high waters, making the need for caution even more critical. DNR trail officials said that there are many potential hazards riders must be aware of, including downed trees, deer, elevation changes and private driveways.
The DNR encourages all snowmobilers, regardless of age or experience, to take a snowmobile safety class. In Michigan all snowmobile operators between the ages of 12 and 16 are required to take a Michigan-approved snowmobile safety course and obtain a snowmobile safety certificate to ride unsupervised or to operate a snowmobile across a road.