SPRINGFIELD, IL – Though significant snowfall has not yet been a constant feature on the Illinois landscape this winter, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is reminding snowmobile operators to focus on safety when conditions allow for snowmobiling this season and in the years ahead.
“When we do get a blanket of snow, snowmobiling becomes popular in a hurry and snowmobilers need to keep safety in mind,” said IDNR Acting Director Sam Flood. “Snowmobile operators need to remind themselves of the rules of operation, should never drink and drive, and retain respect for property, the environment and others while enjoying their ride.”
International Snowmobile Safety Week this year is January 14-20.
According to statistics compiled by the IDNR, there were 14 accidents statewide involving snowmobiles during the winter of 2005-06. Of those accidents last year, five resulted in injuries to snowmobile operators or passengers, including one fatality in Kane County in December 2005.
So far during the winter of 2006-07, there have been six snowmobile accidents reported, one of which resulted in a fatality in McHenry County last month.
Factors often cited in snowmobile accidents involve operating at excessive speed, poor visibility, failure to recognize obstructions, and use of alcohol.
“Law enforcement officers and snowmobile safety experts know that most mishaps can be avoided if sled operators stay on marked trails, stay away from unfamiliar ground, operate in daylight when visibility is good, and stay sober,” said Jeff Hopkins, head of the IDNR Safety Education Section.
“When we have snow, many of the accidents reported involve collisions with fixed objects such as trees, stumps, logs, fences, culverts, rocks and other objects obscured by the snow,” said Hopkins.
Below are a few suggestions for both the novice and experienced snowmobile riders to keep in mind:
• Know the terrain before you ride
• Know the weather forecast and ice and snow conditions
• Make sure the snowmobile is in top mechanical condition, with properly operating lights
• Wear protective clothing designed for snowmobiling
• Use a helmet, goggles, or face shield to prevent injury from branches and twigs, stones, ice and other debris
• Use a buddy system when riding and never ride alone or unaccompanied
• Do not harass or pursue wildlife
• Avoid areas posted for wildlife and natural area protection
• Stay away from bodies of water if uncertain about ice thickness and water currents
• Respect the property and rights of landowners
• Obey all federal, state and local rules regulating operation of snowmobiles
The IDNR, in cooperation with snowmobile clubs and other groups, offers free snowmobile safety education courses. The courses are required of young people ages 12-16 who want to operate a snowmobile alone. Children ages 10-11 may operate a snowmobile only if they are accompanied on the snowmobile by an adult. Children under the age of 10 are prohibited from operating a snowmobile, even if under the direct supervision of an adult.
In addition to a comprehensive review of snowmobile laws, the courses offer safety tips, instruction on handling a snowmobile in different snow conditions, emergency first aid, clothing and equipment needed for cold weather survival, responsibility to the environment and wildlife, and sled maintenance and repair.
For information on safety education classes, contact the IDNR Safety Education Section by calling toll-free 1-800-832-2599. Most courses are offered during the fall and early winter.
The IDNR, which has registered more than 40,000 snowmobiles in the state, maintains 400 miles of public trails open to snowmobiling at state parks. In addition, more than 2,000 miles of additional trails for public use are made available by local snowmobile clubs throughout Illinois. For more information on snowmobiling opportunities, safety education and the snowmobiling code of ethics, visit the IDNR web site and click on “Snowmobile Safety” at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/education/safety/snwmob.htm.