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Vermont Legislative Research Shop

 

Snowmobile Safety Regulations

Thousands of snowmobiling accidents occur in the United States every year resulting in hundreds of injuries and deaths. The main causes of these accidents are natural obstacles, excessive speed, and alcohol intoxication. In states where snowmobiling is a popular form of winter recreation there are many laws and regulations governing the use of these off-road vehicles. All states set a minimum age at which you can operate a snowmobile (with and without supervision), most states require registration of snowmobiles, and many states require or recommend a potential snowmobile operator to take a safety course first.

Table 1 compares snowmobile regulations in eight states: Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The availability of information on these states determined their inclusion. In all of the states, registration is required. Other regulations examined were the minimum age to operate; whether safety education is required; what other requirements exist, such as a trail maintenance pass; what, if any, safety equipment is required; and the maximum noise levels allowed.

Vermont Snowmobile Regulations

In Vermont, registration of snowmobiles is required if they will be operated on the public trail system; out-of-state registration is also honored. Registration stickers are issued by the DMV, and must be displayed properly on the vehicle. No one under the age of twelve may operate a snowmobile on non-family owned lands without direct supervision of an adult at least 18 years of age. Children under the age of 16 must take a Snowmobile Safety Course to operate a snowmobile without supervision. A Trail Maintenance Assessment/Trail Pass must be purchased from a snowmobile club chairperson or a local business contracted to sell TMAs for the club. The revenues are used to maintain trails. The use of approved safety helmets is recommended. The maximum allowable noise level is 73 decibels on the A scale at 50 feet. Snowmobiling while intoxicated (SWI) is illegal, with the same legal blood alcohol limit as DWI, which is 0.08. Penalties may include fines, loss of snowmobiling privileges and imprisonment (VT DMV, 1998).

Fatal Accident Information

Despite these rules and regulations, accidents do happen and death or serious injuries often result. In Alaska, for 1993-1994, there were higher injury death and hospitalization rates reported for snowmobiles (off-road vehicles) than for on-road motor vehicles. Over half of these snowmobile injuries induced deaths involved natural objects such as boulders, rivers, and ravines. Of the people who died as a result of a snowmobile accident and for whom blood alcohol levels were available, 65% had BAC levels of 0.10 or higher (Landen, et al., 1999).

In Maine, snowmobiling accidents became more prevalent in the 1995-1996 winter season. However, snowmobile registration rates also rose to record levels. Of the 1,355 snowmobile accidents which occurred between the years of 1991 and 1996, 80% were due to excessive speed or careless operation; thirteen per cent were due to alcohol intoxication (CDC, 1997).

New Hampshire reported 165 non-fatal injuries and 12 deaths resulting from snowmobile accidents in a fourteen-month period (January 1989 to February 1992). These accidents disproportionately involve males between the ages of 20 and 29. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), "67% of all fatal accidents were alcohol-related and 67% were associated with excessive speed" (CDC, 1995).

In Wisconsin, the historic leading causes of snowmobile accidents were excessive speed and alcohol intoxication. The 1997-98 Snowmobile Fatal Accident Report showed that there were 21 fatal snowmobile accidents. For those years the two main causes of accidents were collision with fixed objects and falling through ice. Also interesting to note is that "80% of operators involved in fatal accidents had not received Snowmobile Safety Training" (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).

Insurance:

In a more limited search of state law codes, none of the four states examined required liability insurance for snowmobile operators. However, Michigan and Indiana do require dealers that rent or lease snowmobiles to carry liability insurance of

$20,000.00 because of bodily injury to or death of 1 person in any 1 accident and subject to that limit for 1 person, $40,000.00 because of bodily injury to or death of 2 or more persons in any 1 accident, and $10,000.00 because of injury to or destruction of property of others in any 1 accident.

Dealers may alternatively require anyone renting or leasing a snowmobile to carry insurance at or above these levels. In Maine, a limited liability law has been instated to protect landowners who allow snowmobiling on their property. In Vermont, VAST is responsible for insuring itself and its trail system, with a $1,000,000 policy.

Innovative Policies:

Minnesota has recently instituted two new laws in order to cut down on the number of snowmobiling accidents in the state. As of October 1, 1998, all persons born after December 31, 1979 must obtain a Snowmobile Safety Certificate before they can operate a snowmobile. Another law was established to provide added disincentives to consuming alcohol while operating a snowmobile. Effective January 1, 1998, anyone found guilty of operating a motor vehicle (including snowmobiles, ATV, OHM, ORV, and watercraft) while under the influence of alcohol and having prior DWI violations will have their driver’s license confiscated as well as losing the privilege to operate recreational vehicles.

References:

Brian Head Chamber and Visitor Services (Utah), "Snowmobile Laws." Available: http://www.brianheadutah.com/law.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1997. "Injuries and deaths associated with the use of snowmobiles – Maine, 1991-96," JAMA, v277 n7 p526(2).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1995. "Injuries associated with use of snowmobiles – New Hampshire 1989-1992," JAMA, v273 n6 p448(2).

Indiana Code, Title 14 Article 16 Chapter 2, "Snowmobiles." Available: http://www.law.indiana.edu/codes/in/14/ch-14-16-2.html

Landen M.G. et al. 1999. "Injuries Associated with Snowmobiles," Public Health Reports v114 (Jan), p48(1).

Maine Department of Conservation, Bureau of Parks and Recreation, "Snowmobiling Laws." Available: http://www.mainerec.com/snowlaw1.html

Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division, "Snowmobiling in Michigan." Available: http://www.dnr.state.mi.us/

Minnesota Department of Natural Resource, "Snowmobile Operators," and other sites Available: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/trails_and_waterways/regulations/snowmobile/

Nebraska Game and Parks, "Nebraska Snowmobile Guide" Available: http://ngp.ngpc.state.ne.us/parks/snowmobile.html

Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, "What you need to snowmobile in Vermont," and other VAST sites. Available: http://www.vtvast.org/rules.html

Vermont DMV. 1998. Vermont Snowmobile Operator’s Manual.

Vermont Department of Public Safety, "Vermont Snowmobile Safety." http://www.dps.state.vt.us/vsp/register.htm

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Enforcement Division,"Snowmobile Safety Education Course Information" Available: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/cs/registrations/snow.htm

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Completed By Molly Hooker and Jennifer Symmes on April 19, 1999

 

 

Table 1: State Snowmobiling Laws

State

Registration Required

Minimum Age to Operate1

Safety Education Required

Other Require-ments

Safety Equipment Required

Noise Laws (Maximum

Decibels)

Indiana

Yes

14

NA

NA

NA

Muffler Required

Maine

Yes

14

None

Fish and Wildlife Sticker

NA

82 decibels

Michigan

Yes

12

12 - 17

NA

Helmet for all operators

78 decibels

Minnesota

Yes

12

12 - 17 3

Non-Resident State Trail Sticker

Helmet when under 18

78 decibels

Nebraska

Yes

12

None4

NA

NA

Muffler Required

Utah

Yes

8

8 – 15 5

NA

Helmet when under 18

Noise Control Device Required

Vermont

Yes

16 2

12 - 16

Trail Use Sticker

Helmets

recommended

73 decibels

Wisconsin

Yes

12

12 - 15

Non-Resident

Trail Use Sticker

Helmets recommended

78 decibels

1. Without supervision

2. Must be 12 to operate snowmobiles at all

3. Effective October 1, 1998, everyone born after December 31, 1979 must have a safety certificate, as well as speeding repeat offenders or those convicted of careless or reckless operation

4. Operators 12 – 15 must have a safety certificate, which requires passing an exam given by the DMV

5. Older operators must have a valid Drivers license or safety certification