sketch of snowmobiles

“Fifth snowmobile-related fatality in Maine in less than three days”:

This is the kind of headline that nobody like's to read especially when this brings the total fatalities in the year 2008 up to nine with several weeks left in the season. Snowmobile accidents in the State of Maine, as in all states, are largely avoidable if some common sense safety measures are applied before and during your ride.

Ride at a Reasonable Speed:

In general there are no posted speed limits on Maine snowmobile trails but ironically “excessive speed” is a contributing factor in a large number of accidents and fatalities. As a matter of law you need to be operating your snowmobile at a reasonable and prudent speed. That speed varies depending on the conditions of the trails, the conditions of the machine and the conditions of the operator.

When operating at night, do not over ride your headlights. Typically a snowmobile’s headlights illuminate 200 feet ahead of you and your speed should remain at or below 40 mph. The same is true for daytime riding; don't go so fast that you can not stop within the visible open space in front of you. Know your limitations and know the trail conditions and remember that there are others including large grooming machines sharing the same trails as yourself; slow down!

Do not ride impaired:

You should apply the same laws and sense of responsibility to operating a snowmobile as you would an automobile. Do not drink & drive; impaired judgment and reaction time can lead to fatalities on the trails. Remember, you are not only risking your own life but possibly the lives of others.

Ride to the Right:

Trails can be narrow and visibility can be limited due to the landscape or the weather conditions; even at low speeds, head on collisions can be dangerous and even fatal. If you can’t see another driver approaching then that driver can’t see you! Slow down at blind curves, at the crests of hills and on uneven grades and stay to the right!

Stay Off Lakes and Rivers:

The safest practice is to stay off all bodies of water unless you’re absolutely sure the ice is thick enough to support you. As a rule of thumb, a clear hard ice has to be a minimum of 5 inches thick to support the weight of you and your snowmobile.

Stay on Marked Trails and off Public Roadways:

Considerable efforts are taken by the State and volunteer snowmobile clubs to mark and groom several hundreds of miles of trails; stay on those trails. It is easy to become stuck, lost or disoriented once you leave a marked trail and efforts by rescue personnel to locate you will likely be focused on the marked trail system.

Notwithstanding the exceptions under Title 12 13106 A. 5, it is illegal in the State of Maine to operate a snowmobile on a Public Roadway. Snowmobiles have limited control and maneuverability on paved and unimproved roads and even in optimal conditions, they are hard to spot by traveling motorists.

Where will you be going and when will you be back?

For safety sake it is always best to ride with a buddy or in groups. If you intend to ride alone, know where you plan to go, what route you plan to take, when you plan to return and then let someone know! The Warden Service suggests completing a trip itinerary and leaving it on your door or under the windshield wiper of your vehicle. Not only will this minimize wasted search efforts by the Warden Service but it may very well save your life. An example of a trip itinerary as well as the relevant snowmobile laws of the State can be found on the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife’s website:
http://www.maine.gov/ifw/laws_rules/snowlaws.htm

If you are unsure where you are going or how you plan to get there, don’t guess. There are several local snowmobile clubs that can guide you on your ride; in addition, an excellent resource for safety, club and trail information is the Maine Snowmobile Association:

Prepare Yourself for the Unexpected:

Even after taking steps to operate your snowmobile safely there can be instances where you may find yourself involved in an accident, injured or stranded. Make sure you have some simple supplies and tools to assist you. Some suggestions are: bottled water, energy bars, dry matches, a space blanket, a shovel, compass and maps. GPS systems are now available and affordable. Likewise, cell phones can be very helpful but make sure they are properly charged before leaving and keep in mind that service may not always be available.

This year is already on pace to set a record for the amount of snowfall, let’s not have a record number of snowmobile fatalities to go along with it.