Take Care When Snowmobiling This Winter

a boy rides a blue snowmobile during the winter on a snowy path on a sunny day

Joseph-Armand Bombardier may not be a household name but his motorized invention has certainly reached iconic status. The snowmobile, which was conceived out of the need for effective winter transportation in rural communities, has grown into one of North America’s most popular winter activities.

The snowmobile was born of a family tragedy after Bombardier’s young son died of peritonitis in 1934 when the family was unable to reach the hospital in time. In those days, the Quebec government did not clear snow from secondary roads so it was difficult to get around in the depths of winter.

Bombardier developed a vehicle that ran on caterpillar tracks and steered by skis. His first customers were country doctors, ambulance drivers and priests living in remote areas.

There have been a few iterations of the snow machine, developed by different people and used to carry multiple passengers. But the modern-day snowmobile Canadians have come to love was developed in 1950s after Bombardier discovered an appetite for recreational products designed for one or two people.

In 1959 he launched the Ski-Dog, a name that was changed to Ski-Doo because of a typo in a sales brochure. The rest is history. Today, the word Ski-Doo is synonymous with the snowmobile, just as the term ski-dooing is frequently used to describe snowmobiling.

A Popular Pastime.

There are more than 600,000 registered snowmobilers in Canada and 1.2 million in the United States, the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association reports. The average snowmobiler rides close to 2,000 km in a season.

Last year 124,769 snowmobiles were sold worldwide; including 48,252 here and 53,553 in the U.S. Those numbers demonstrate the popularity of the activity. According to the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations:

  • There are 121,297 km of organized snowmobile trails in Canada.
  • More than 250,000 user-pay memberships/pass/trail permits are sold in this country annually.
  • There are about 1.5 million family members who snowmobile.
  • Volunteers manage 729 snowmobile clubs in Canada.
  • There are 12 provincial or territorial snowmobile organizations in Canada.

Ontario is one of the best places in Canada to enjoy this winter pastime. There are more than 32,000 km of maintained, interconnected, trails in the province and usually about 16 weeks of snowy weather to enjoy them.

Most Snowmobile Deaths Occur Among Men.

Few activities are risk free so it should come as no surprise that there is always the potential for injury or death when snowmobiling. Statistics Canada reports an average of 73 Canadians died from unintentional snowmobile events from 2013 to 2019. Every year we hear of new tragedies. Already this year a man riding on a trail near Sudbury crashed into a tree and later died in hospital, it was reported.

StatsCan found that the vast majority of snowmobile fatalities (89 per cent) involved males, five times higher than among females. While death impacted all ages, three in four fatal events between 2013 and 2019 involved those aged 25 to 64.

The overwhelming majority of fatal accidents – 80 per cent – involved a single snowmobile. In nearly half of the single-vehicle accidents, the machine collided with a stationary object, StatsCan states.

In 69 per cent of fatal multi-vehicle accidents, the snowmobile collided with an automobile. This often occurred at an intersection between a public road and a snowmobile trail. In 31 per cent of multi-vehicle fatalities, the snowmobile collided with another snowmobile. These accidents occurred primarily on a trail.

According to Statistics Canada data, several risk factors were found in snowmobile fatalities:

  • Alcohol/drug use was reported in 49 per cent of the deaths.
  • Excessive speed played a part in 34 per cent of fatalities.
  • Evening or night riding was cited in 35 per cent of fatal accidents.

Ontario Has Snowmobile Laws.

Make no mistake about it, a snowmobile is not a toy. It is a motorized vehicle that typically weighs between 225 to 320 kilograms and is capable of travelling up to 190 km/h. Anyone who operates a snowmobile in Ontario must meet the minimum requirements of the province’s Motorized Snow Vehicles Act (MSVA).

Where a snowmobile can be driven depends on a person’s age and the type of licence they possess.

To operate these machines, the driver must meet these minimum requirements:

  • be at least 12 years old;
  • have a valid driver’s licence or motorized snow vehicle operator’s licence (MSVOL);
  • register the snowmobile with the Ministry of Transportation; and
  • have insurance.

Drivers who are 16 and older with a valid Ontario driver’s licence, MSVOL or snowmobile licence from another jurisdiction are permitted to drive on snowmobile trails and on municipal roads approved for motorized snow vehicle access.

Drivers 12 and older with a valid MSVOL or snowmobile licence from another jurisdiction are permitted to drive on authorized snowmobile trails.

Drivers under 12 or drivers of any age without a valid Ontario driver’s licence, MSVOL or snowmobile licence from another jurisdiction are permitted to drive on private property with the express permission of the property owner.

Under the MSVA, drivers and passengers must always wear an approved helmet with the chin strap securely fastened.

Different municipalities may also have additional requirements for off-road and snow vehicles.

Be Prepared Before Hitting the Trails.

Operating a snowmobile requires the same care and attention as driving an automobile. While snowmobiles are capable of travelling extremely fast, the maximum speed limit on trails is 50 km/h in Ontario. You can ride alongside public roads, between the shoulder and fence line, unless prohibited by the municipality.

Travelling on ice is risky but despite annual warnings, each year riders and their machines fall into frigid waters. Operators are advised to check with local authorities or snowmobile clubs before venturing on ice. People should also wear a personal flotation device or floater snowmobile suit and carry ice picks that are easily accessible to climb out of the water.

The Ontario government offers these safety tips:

  • take a snowmobile safety course;
  • tell someone where you are going and when you plan to arrive;
  • keep your gas tank filled;
  • check weather, trail and ice conditions before heading out;
  • wear appropriate clothing;
  • inspect your snowmobile regularly;
  • have a first-aid and survival kits handy; and
  • always check trail availability before starting out.

While riding:

  • stay on trails, using proper care and control;
  • ride on the right-hand side of the trail;
  • stop completely before entering any roadway;
  • obey signs and signals;
  • slow down on unfamiliar terrain;
  • use caution when crossing roads and railway tracks;
  • never ride on private property without permission; and
  • never leave children unsupervised.

It is important to note that operating a snowmobile while impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication carries the same penalties as driving an automobile while impaired. Offenders face immediate licence suspension and if you are convicted, you can lose your driving privileges for all types of vehicles for at least a year.

Seek Advice if You Have Been Hurt in a Snowmobile Accident.

Even the safest riders obeying the rules of the trail can be involved in a snowmobile collision. An accident could leave you injured and unable to work. How will you pay for medical treatment and everyday expenses?

There can be numerous causes for a mishap such as operator error or equipment malfunction. If you are hurt in any accident, Ontario insurance laws only allow for a limited time to file a claim so you must act quickly.

The experienced team of personal injury lawyers at Gluckstein Lawyers has been helping accident victims for decades and can guide you through the complex legal system. We have the answers to your questions and your initial free consultation is without any obligation on your part. We will never charge legal fees until your claim is settled. Contact us today.


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