Every winter thousands of snowmobile riders will hit the 6,200 miles of groomed, state trails to enjoy breathtaking views of Michigan from the seat of a snowmobile.
Snowmobiling has a huge economic impact on the state, annually generating more than a billion dollars generated both directly and indirectly from the more than 400,000 registered snowmobiles in Michigan. Those benefiting include hotels, restaurants, the tourist industry as a whole, and dealers and manufacturers. The average snowmobile sold for $8,800 in 2009, while the average snowmobiler spent over $4,000 on the sport. Those are funds put back into this state’s economy.
Nationwide there were 1.65 million registered snowmobiles in 2009 with snowmobiling having a $22 billion impact annually in the United States. More than 90,000 fulltime jobs are generated by the snowmobile industry in North America each year. In 2009, some 61,593 snowmobiles were sold in the U.S.
The Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA) is encouraging its 20,000-plus members and all other snowmobilers to take the Zero Tolerance Pledge and promote alcohol-free Snowmobiling. It is against the law and carries the same stiff penalties as drinking and driving in an automobile.
During the 2009-10 winter season, there were 23 snowmobile accidents in Michigan causing 26 deaths according to the Law Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment. In 2008-2009 there were 24 snowmobile crashes causing 25 deaths.
My law firm joins the MSA to advance its cause of alcohol-free snowmobiling. We are encouraged that more and more snowmobilers are being responsible and not mixing alcohol with this great winter sport. And while using our wonderful state trails, we urge vigilance be given when approaching pedestrians, cross-country skiers, or groups of snowmobiles to avoid accidents.
A snowmobile can weigh up to 600 pounds and some performance sleds can travel at speeds in excess of 90 m.p.h. At 90 m.p.h., a snowmobile moves at 131 feet per second. With a standard reaction time of 1.5 seconds, a snowmobile will travel 195 feet before coming to a stop.
Children are at risk for snowmobile-related injury from being the operator, bystander, or passenger. Pediatric snowmobile-related injuries are often a result of risk-taking behavior of the parent (excessive speed, alcohol use, and nighttime driving). Males younger than 16 years are more than three times as likely as females of the same age to sustain a snowmobile-related injury.
If an accident does happen, I urge the victim to take note whether they are on a state trail, a public or private trail, as Michigan’s recreation statue provides for governmental immunity if you are injured on state land while snowmobiling. While on trails going through private land, snowmobiles should stay on the trail to avoid trespassing and to avoid hidden hazards like rocks or stumps under the snow.
I also want to remind snowmobile owners that if a snowmobile operator collides with a moving vehicle they are covered by Michigan No Fault Law. The operator may be eligible for No Fault benefits if they strike a vehicle parked on the side of the road in “a manner that presents an unreasonable risk of bodily injured. This is important because a snowmobiler colliding with a car parked on the side of the road because of a snowstorm often will be entitled to No Fault.
Statistics show that only 10-15 percent of snowmobile accidents occur on well-maintained and designed trails where as much as 80-90 percent of all snowmobiling takes place. Just a few of the risks along trails include: Cable and guide wires, fences, barbed wire, unsafe ice and ice ridges, hidden rocks, tree stumps, low hanging branches and other obstacles.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 110 deaths and 13,400 hospital emergency room-treated injuries occur each year with snowmobiles. About 40% of the reported deaths resulted from colliding with trees, wires, bridges, and other vehicles. Some deaths occurred when the snowmobile rolled to the side in a ditch or stream and pinned the operator under the vehicle. Deaths also have occurred when the snowmobile was operating on ice and fell through.
In Michigan snowmobile safety training is recommend for all operators and required for persons ages 12 to 17. Speed and operator inattention are the cause of most accidents. In Michigan, an added danger is travelling over frozen waterways when the ice is too thin. For a safe and enjoyable season, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers these tips:
- Always keep your machine in top mechanical condition.
- Always wear insulated boots and protective clothing including a helmet, gloves and eye protection.
- Never ride alone.
- Avoid, when possible, crossing frozen bodies of water.
- Never operate in a single file when crossing frozen bodies of water.
- Always be alert to avoid fences and low strung wires.
- Never operate on a street or highway.
- Always look for depressions in the snow.
- Keep headlights and taillights on at all times.
- When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off the seat and look for traffic.
- Always check the weather conditions before you depart.
Snowmobile riders injured by someone taking one unnecessary risks have a right to collect the damages. A lawyer knowledgeable about the dangers of snowmobile riding can help you determine whether you have suffered because of the negligence of another. If an avoidable accident has robbed you of your health, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Only an experienced personal injury attorney can help you receive the justice that you deserve.