Key Points of This Article:
- Since 2016, the number of collisions and fatalities involving snowmobiles has nearly doubled in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
- Excessive speed remains the No. 1 cause of serious snowmobile rider injury and death in Michigan.
- Drugs and alcohol are among the top two contributing factors for speed-related snowmobile accidents and fatalities.
- There are regulations for children under the age of 16 to operate a snowmobile and rules for what is lawfully considered a snowmobile vs. a snow bike or other off-road vehicle (ORV).
Increase in Michigan Snowmobile Accidents Highlight Chronic Issues with Unsafe Riding
As the snowmobile season is now in full swing in Michigan and fresh snow is hitting every few weeks, residents and visitors are enjoying outdoor activities, but not without officials responding to a rash of accidents involving both snowmobilers and other drivers. The number of collisions and related injuries and fatalities has nearly doubled compared to previous years, including some crashes near Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor trails that run through state parks or take riders through cross-traffic and spaces shared by pedestrians and motorists. Officials anticipate another deadly year based on an already growing stack of reported accidents and four deaths in the current 2020-2021 season alone.
- A Huron County man died after a snowmobile crash involving a group ride in Chippewa County when he attempted to pass other snowmobilers at a high rate of speed, left the trail, struck several trees, and was then ejected. Alcohol is also believed to be a contributing factor in the crash.
- An Indian River man was killed, and a 53-year-old Cheboygan woman was seriously injured in a snowmobile crash in Mullett Township. Speed and alcohol are believed to be factors in the crash as well.
- A 61-year-old man from Imlay City died in a Copper County snowmobile crash one day after Christmas. Authorities report he lost control of his snowmobile. The sheriff’s office is now investigating the incident, which speed is believed to be a factor.
- Keweenaw County Sheriffs responded to a snowmobile crash near Gratiot Lake Road, where a 25-year-old Wisconsin woman lost control of her sled, left the trail, and struck a tree. Neither speed nor alcohol is believed to be a factor in the crash.
Michigan offers so many outdoor recreation options and activities during the colder months. Sadly, snowmobile accidents and fatalities continue to climb each year, most of the time fueled by inattentiveness, inexperienced riders and bad driver decision making, and equipment failures. In the 2019-2020 season, MDNR reported 14 snowmobile accident-related deaths, in which speed, alcohol, or drugs were involved in more than half of the fatalities. In some parts of the state, like the Upper Peninsula communities of Marquette, Paradise, Sault Ste. Marie, Gaylord, and Munising, as much as 80% of snowmobile accidents and deaths reported are caused by high speed.
How to Get Ready for a Safe Snowmobile Ride in Michigan
As you prepare for your next Michigan snowmobile ride, please take extra time to review these safety requests from MDNR’s “Ride Right” campaign. The awareness program was created to remind drivers to ride on the right side of the trail, slow down, and stay sober.
- Keep your machine well maintained and in top mechanical condition.
- Check the weather conditions before you depart.
- Wear insulated boots and protective clothing, including a helmet, gloves, and eye protection.
- Know how to operate your sled.
- Operate at safe and appropriate speeds for the trail and weather conditions.
- Never ride alone and keep group or passenger safety top-of-mind.
- Stay on the designated trails and follow trail signage for cues to slow down.
- When approaching an approved trail intersection to cross, come to a complete stop, raise yourself off the seat and look for traffic. Watch for sleds, pedestrians, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
- When possible, avoid crossing frozen bodies of water or snow-covered lakes.
- Always look for depressions and drifts in the snow.
- Don’t be a distracted rider. Stay off of your phone and focus on operating your sled.
- Keep headlights and taillights on at all times.
- Don’t drink or do drugs. Although marijuana is legal in Michigan, it may impair judgment and slow your reaction time.
- If you are traveling to another area of the state and will be towing your sled, be sure to rethink the liability responsibilities of hitching a trailer to your truck.
MDNR also encourages all snowmobilers, regardless of age or experience, to take a snowmobile safety class to protect themselves and others while snowmobiling. Being knowledgeable and respecting the universal snowmobile trail signage will also help keep everyone safe while having fun on the trails.
Helpful Michigan Snowmobiling Facts You May Not Know
Before heading out on a ride, snowmobilers should ensure they are familiar with all of the current rules and regulations for riding in Michigan. Despite what you might see happening in some parts of the state, snowmobile operator-age restrictions do exist and laws are set in place about what is considered a snowmobile or a modified off-road-vehicle (ORV) in Michigan.
- Children under the age of 12 may not operate a snowmobile without an adult’s direct supervision, except on property owned or controlled by the parent or legal guardian. They may not cross a highway or street.
- Children ages 12 to 16 may operate a snowmobile if they have a valid snowmobile safety certificate in their immediate possession or are under the direct supervision of a person 21 years of age or older. They may not cross a highway or street without having a valid snowmobile safety certificate in their immediate possession.
In Michigan, a snowmobile means any motor-driven vehicle designed for travel primarily on snow or ice of a type that utilizes sled-type runners or skis, an endless belt tread, or any combination of these or other similar means of contact with the surface upon which it is operated, but is not a vehicle that must be registered under the Michigan vehicle code. If a motorized vehicle is manufactured initially as an ORV, it is considered an ORV, and it is prohibited from riding designated snowmobile trails.
Michigan Snowmobile Accident Injury Lawyers
At the Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C., we do what it takes to get your Michigan snowmobile accident case resolved against negligent drivers involved in the crash. We can also answer your Michigan no-fault law questions. If an accident does occur this snowmobile season and you become injured while riding, we can be right there to help. Or, if a snowmobiler hits your vehicle and causes damages or injuries, please call us at 1-800-LEE-FREE for a FREE consultation.