Wisconsin DNR & MADD Take Aim at Lowering Staggering Snowmobile Fatality Statistics
As winter blankets Wisconsin in snow, the exhilarating hum of snowmobiles echoes across the state. With over 200,000 registered snowmobiles exploring Wisconsin's 25,000 miles of groomed trails, safety becomes paramount. In an impactful collaboration, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have joined forces to champion safe snowmobiling and raise awareness about the perils of impaired operation.
Founded in 1980, MADD works tirelessly to end drunk driving, combat drugged driving, support victims, and prevent underage drinking. The organization's Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving calls for law enforcement support, ignition interlocks for offenders, and advanced vehicle technology.
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The early months of 2023 saw 16 fatal snowmobile crashes in Wisconsin, with a staggering 10 linked to alcohol use. These incidents prompted a collaborative initiative by Erin Payton, MADD Regional Executive Director, and Lt. Jacob Holsclaw, DNR Off-Highway Vehicle Administrator. Payton emphasizes that snowmobile-impaired crashes affect families similarly to road vehicle crashes, urging snowmobilers to adopt a sober mindset.
Holsclaw wants to reinforce the message, highlighting that the highest age demographic in fatal crashes is over 40. He recommends that all snowmobile riders, regardless of age, should take safety courses, ride within their abilities, and, most importantly, avoid alcohol consumption before or while riding.
What Are Some Common Safety Tips for Snowmobilers?
- Don't drive impaired: Alcohol and drugs compromise vision, balance, coordination, and reaction time. It is imperative not to ride with impaired individuals.
- Take a snowmobile safety training course: Education on snowmobile operation, laws, and safety can be lifesaving.
- Stay on the trail or stay home: Adhering to designated trails and understanding local regulations is vital for safe snowmobiling.
- Check weather and trail conditions: Prioritize safety by avoiding rides in unfavorable weather and checking trail conditions before departure.
- Never ride alone: Ensure safety by always riding with another snowmobile, providing assistance in case of emergencies.
- Dress for safety and survival: Wear a DOT-approved helmet, layered clothing, and gear that repels water and cuts the wind.
- Slow down: Excessive speed, especially at night, contributes to accidents. Keep nighttime speed under 40 MPH.
- Stay to the right: Follow trail rules, stay on the right, and obey all trail signs, especially on hills and corners.
- Be cautious on ice-covered lakes and rivers: Avoid riding on such surfaces if possible, wear a life jacket on ice, and stay away from areas with moving water underneath.
The DNR provides a Violation Hotline (1-800-TIP-WDNR) for reporting natural resource violations, including unsafe snowmobile operation. Reports can be made confidentially via call, text, or online. In Wisconsin, it is illegal to operate a snowmobile with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more. Snowmobile operators who use public land are subject to the same laws as they would be on any public roadway in a car, truck, or other motor vehicle. If you are caught operating a snowmobile on public land with a BAC over 0.08%, you will find yourself charged with driving under the influence. The fines for a snowmobiling OWI can range between $125.90 and $2000 depending on how many infractions you have on your record and the nature of the incident.
As Wisconsin anticipates continued snowfall and the opening of snowmobile trails, the collaborative efforts of DNR and MADD underscore the importance of responsible snowmobiling. Riders are urged to operate within their limits, stay sober, and stick to designated trails. These choices not only ensure personal safety but also contribute to the well-being of the entire snowmobiling community. Winter enthusiasts are reminded that the thrill of snowmobiling can be fully enjoyed when accompanied by responsible and safe practices.
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