Safety first on the snowmobile

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is urging snowmobilers to celebrate International Snowmobile Safety Week by using caution.

The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association started the safety week in 1995. This year’s week began on Saturday and runs through Sunday, Jan. 26.

Snowmobiling is great fun, but it can be dangerous. Snowmobilers must drive smart, and use good judgment.

It’s really not that difficult. Think about it.

All snowmobilers should follow these common sense guidelines:

– Don’t drink: Drinking and driving can be fatal. Drinking alcohol before or during snowmobiling can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking may drive too fast or race across unsafe ice. Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, which increases the likelihood of hypothermia.

– Slow down: Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should proceed at a pace that will allow ample reaction time for any situation. When driving at night, a speed of only 40 miles an hour may result in “overdriving” the headlight.

– Be prepared: When traveling, make sure to bring a first aid kit, a flashlight, waterproof matches, a knife, a compass and a cell phone.

– Stay alert: Fatigue can reduce the driver’s coordination and judgment.

– Ice advice: Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness and strength of ice on lakes and ponds. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevent safe ice from forming. Never travel in a single file when crossing bodies of water.

– Dress for success: Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice and flying debris. Windproof and water-repellent clothing should be worn in layers and should be just snug enough so that no loose ends catch in the machine.

– Avoid roads: When it is necessary to cross a road, first come to a complete stop, listen and look for traffic and use hand signals. Stay away from any automobiles whether moving or parked.

– Watch the weather: Rapid weather changes can produce dangerous conditions.

– Bring a buddy: Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in some personal injury. The most dangerous situations can occur if a person is injured and alone. If you must travel alone tell someone your destination, planned route and when you will return.

Additionally, the following are some snowmobile-related regulations in Michigan:

– Snowmobiles must have a current registration and trail permit. Snowmobiles can be registered at all Secretary of State offices. The certificate of registration is required to be with the snowmobile always. The trail permit sticker should be permanently affixed to the forward half of the snowmobile directly above or below the headlight. Snowmobile trail permits are available from the DNR, license agents and snowmobile dealers.

– Anyone whose license to operate an automobile has been suspended may not operate a snowmobile.

– A person convicted of manslaughter, negligent homicide or a felony resulting from snowmobile operation will have six points assessed against that person’s driver license.

– A person convicted of operating a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, or with an unlawful blood alcohol content, will have six points assessed the driver’s license.

-Children ages 12 through 16 must be certified to operate a snowmobile without adult supervision, and may not cross a highway or street without having a valid snowmobile safety certificate.