Snowmobile Accidents: Winter Recreation Has Its Risks
While a lot of what we go through during winter is a hassle, there are a few perks. Only a nice New Jersey snowfall (or an extreme Nor’easter) can provide certain recreational activities, like skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling.
But they come with dangers.
In January last year, a man was killed in a snowmobile crash on Lake Hopatcong in Morris County. The man’s snowmobile struck a rock and crashed into trees. A New Jersey woman was also taken to the hospital for injuries to her arm and head after hitting a tree while snowmobiling in Martinsburg. Unfortunately, these incidents are indicative of a growing trend in snowmobile crashes.
More Snowmobile Injuries and Fatalities
Various reports across the northeastern United States and Canada show an increase in snowmobile crashes in 2017 and 2018. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources conservation wardens are increasing snowmobile patrols after five fatal snowmobile accidents in 2018 alone, including three in one weekend (Your Daily Globe). In 2017, the Maine Warden Service reported 85 injury snowmobile crashes, with nine fatalities, up from 67 injury crashes and five fatalities in 2016 (U.S. News). Around the same time, the Ontario Provincial police reported 14 snowmobile accident fatalities, up from eight people during the same period the year before.
In addition to these numbers, the Associated Press reported that ten snowmobilers died on thinly frozen lakes across the northeastern United States in 2017. Riders often cut across lakes to save time, but end up misjudging the thickness of the ice and drown or succumb to hypothermia. This happened to riders in New York, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont last year.
Common Causes of Snowmobile Crashes
The majority of experts interviewed in these accident reports cite speed and alcohol as the main causes of snowmobile crashes. According to Streetdirectory, driving at night is another factor. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reports that most fatal snowmobile accidents occur between 8:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.
How to Stay Safe When Snowmobiling
Streetdirectory also lays out a number of precautions you can take to help you stay safe on your Polaris or Arctic Cat this winter:
- Maintain the snowmobile in top condition. If you’re renting, verify the snowmobile’s condition with the rental company.
- Wear appropriate gear for cold weather and high speeds. This includes a helmet with face shield or goggles, layers of water-repellant clothing, warm gloves and boots, and a windproof outer layer.
- Don’t push yourself past your capabilities or the capabilities of the vehicle – stay within limits you can confidently manage.
- Plan your route and tell someone else, including time of arrival, in case something happens.
- Don’t speed, and avoid driving at night when possible.
- Don’t drink or take drugs before driving.
- Don’t snowmobile alone.
- Avoid fatigued driving – the vibration and the motion of the snowmobile combined with the sun and wind can make it easier to dose off.
- Stay on marked trails – they’re there for a reason.
- Cross streets carefully. Always stop before continuing across at a right angle.
- Don’t cross any bodies of water – this is where falling through the ice can occur.
- As with any other method of personal transportation, carry a safety kit containing first aid, matches, tools, and a compass.
Admittedly, that looks like a lot to remember before getting on your snowmobile and having fun. Much of it, however, is common sense, and includes things you would also consider when driving your car.
On that note, it’s worth repeating that drinking and driving just isn’t worth it. Operating a snowmobile after a few drinks may seem like no big deal compared to driving a car, but the reality is that alcohol contributes to a number of snowmobile crashes. In January 2018, snowmobile accidents caused by intoxicated drivers left people injured or dead in Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont. It’s also illegal, as operating a snowmobile while intoxicated is considered an unclassified misdemeanor under New Jersey law.
What to Do If You Are in a Snowmobile Accident
If you are involved in a snowmobile accident, the first and most important thing to do is to seek medical treatment. Overall, treat the aftermath of a snowmobile accident as you would a car accident. Call for help and do your best to document the situation and any damages. Take photos of the bike, yourself, and the scene. If a snowmobile driver is intoxicated, speeding, or disregarding the law or basic safety procedures, that person may be liable for your medical care and other damages in the event of a crash.
An experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney can help sort through the details of your case and determine what your next steps should be. For a free consultation with our legal team at Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., please call (609) 240-0040.
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