Snowmobiling is a fun and exciting way to spend a winter's day in Minnesota. But ignore the basic safety rules and the season can end quickly and tragically.
Last season 28 people died while snowmobiling in Minnesota. Unfortunately, that's about the average for a typical season.
If you're new to the sport, are between the ages of 12 and 17 or were born after Dec. 31, 1979, you should take the Minnesota Snowmobile Safety training course. Volunteer instructors certified by the DNR offer classes throughout the state. Participants completing the course will receive a Snowmobile Safety Certificate. Call 888-MINNDNR to find a class in your area.
In addition to proper training, snowmobilers should follow these safety tips:
-- Don't drink and drive. Drinking alcohol before or during snowmobiling impairs judgment and slows reaction time. Drunk snowmobilers sometimes drive too fast or race across unsafe ice. Alcohol causes your body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, increasing the risk of hypothermia.
-- Slow down. Excess speed is a factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should proceed at a pace that allows ample reaction time in any situation. When driving at night a speed of only 40 mph may result in "over driving" your headlight.
-- Be prepared. When traveling, make sure to bring a first aid kit, flashlight, waterproof matches and compass.
-- Stay alert. Fatigue reduces a driver's coordination and judgment.
-- Avoid traveling on ice when you're not sure of its thickness. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevent safe ice from forming. Never travel in a single file when crossing bodies of water.
-- Dress properly. Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice and flying debris. Clothing should be worn in layers and should be just snug enough so that no loose ends catch in the machine.
-- Watch the weather. Rapid changes can produce dangerous conditions.
-- Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in personal injury. The most dangerous situations can occur if a person is injured and alone. If you must travel alone tell someone your destination, planned route and when you will return.
-- Report accidents. Snowmobilers involved in an accident resulting in medical attention, death or damage exceeding $500 must file an official accident report through the county sheriff's office within 10 days.
A final reminder: People born after Dec. 31, 1979, cannot purchase a license to operate a snowmobile in Minnesota without first taking a DNR Safety Training Course and receiving a certificate. For a schedule of training sessions, check the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
"Drive safely and drive smart when operating a snowmobile," said Bill Bernhjelm, DNR enforcement chief. "Drivers should always be aware of potential hazards and use good judgment."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.