In the past winter, there were several snowmobiling deaths, but many cases of serious injury. In February 2016, two snowmobilers hit a ditch near a trail near Williamsburg, Ontario, resulting in the death of a 26-year-old Ottawa man. The other snowmobile driver, a 36-year-old Manotick man, survived the crash with non-life threatening injuries.
More recently, an 11-year-old girl was killed while crossing Highway 11 near Iroquois Falls, Ontario. On February 1st, 2017, the young girl was attempting to drive her snowmobile across the highway to reach a trail on the other side, when she crashed into a transport truck. An OPP spokesperson expressed sadness about the tragic death and shock that the 11-year-old was driving, while legally underage and without a snow mobile operator's licence.
Of the popular winter sports and activities in Canada, snowmobiling has the highest risk of serious injury. The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) warns that young people are the most likely to be injured in snowmobile accidents. In fact, the prevailing opinion by the CPS as well as several other respected authorities is that snowmobiling is not recommended for children and younger adolescents. The CPS argues that anyone under the age of 16 should not operate a snowmobile. Further, children under six are lacking sufficient strength and stamina to be safely transported on the back of a snowmobile.
There are many reasons why children are over-represented as snowmobile accident victims. One is the size and speed of snowmobiles, which has increased in the past few decades. Typically, the ‘family’ snowmobile is far too large for a not-yet-fully-grown teenager to handle safely and effectively over twists and turns in the road.
Snowmobile accidents can happen to anyone, but accident reports reveal that most deaths and serious injuries are preventable. The most common factors in collisions are drowning, excessive speed, unsafe operation (which includes driving on dangerous terrain), impaired driving, night-time driving, and inattention. The Canadian Paediatric Society reports that males are two or three times more likely to be involved in snowmobiling accidents than females, and the leading cause of death in such accidents are head and brain injuries.
Most snowmobiling injuries happen when the snowmobile crashes into an object, such as a tree, cable or another vehicle. When children under the age of 16 are injured or killed in a snowmobile accident, injuries most often result when they fell from the snowmobile, the vehicle rolled over on them, or they crashed into another snowmobile or fixed object.
Tips for Safe Snowmobiling
- Never drive across rivers and lakes. In addition to the risk of breaking through the ice and drowning, the lack of traction on ice makes it difficult to stop, turn and start.
- If you feel compelled to cross a body of water, make 100 % certain that the ice is sufficiently frozen – don’t trust other people’s judgement.
- If snowmobiling off trail, such as in a field or on a lake, continuously monitor for other riders who many approach from any direction.
- Always drive at a safe speed, and slow down in unfamiliar or rugged terrain
- Don’t drive or even ride as a passenger when impaired by alcohol or drugs
- Always wear a helmet and appropriate insulated clothing, including gloves, goggles and a waterproof snowmobile suit
- If you’re riding on hilly terrain, attach a bright 1 or 2 meter high antennae flag to the back of your snowmobile, to warn other riders of your approach before a collision can occur
- Check the weather forecast before leaving
- Carry safety equipment, including a charged cell phone, first-aid kit, spark plugs.
- Don’t ride alone
- Carry no more than one passenger
- Get permission from the owner if riding on private land
In Ontario, there is no age restriction for snowmobiling on private property, but this does not mean it’s safe for children under 12 to do so. On public property, drivers under 12 must be supervised by an adult. Anyone 12 or older who does not hold a valid driver’s license is allowed to drive on trails without supervision if they have attained (and are carrying) a certificate of competence (MSVOL). In order to cross or ride on public roads and highways, you need a valid driver’s license and must be 16 years of age.
In Ontario, helmets are mandatory for anyone riding a snowmobile or being towed by one. Unfortunately, some riders continue to ignore this extremely important safety requirement, which is why, every winter in Ontario, many riders suffer terrible facial and head injuries after flying over their snowmobile handlebars or crashing into an object.
Of course, it’s up to every individual to decide which practices to adhere to when they’re snowmobiling, but always remember that no one who was seriously injured in a snowmobiling accident actually anticipated their accident. If you act on the side of caution, particularly with respect to children, you can reduce the risk of injury or death due to a preventable action.
If someone is injured as a result of your or another driver's negligence, the injured person has the legal right to file a civil suit for damages arising from their injuries and losses. If you or a loved one were injured and you would like to claim compensation, call an experienced Sault Ste. Marie snowmobile accident lawyer or Sudbury snowmobile accident lawyer to discuss the particulars of your case and learn about your best options for obtaining a fair settlement.