But the snowfall also brings out the idiots. Specifically, the snowmobilers who haven't a clue how to safely operate their machines. And I nearly was involved in an accident with two of them while driving home from work yesterday.
As I was driving down Smith Road near my home, a simple two-lane road, I was only able to drive about 20-25 mph due to the snowy conditions. I approached an intersection that's notorious for accidents, so I slowed down even more.
That's when two snowmobilers decided to cross Smith Road in front of me. Their destination was the bar across the street. Even if the roads were in perfect condition, their timing was terrible. But given that there was absolutely no way I would be able to stop my car in time, let alone stop it and keep it from sliding off the road or spinning out of control, their actions were potentially fatal.
And it very nearly was fatal, because the first snowmobiler got stuck in my lane of traffic. He must have hit something under the snow, a curb maybe, because sparks were flying out from underneath his machine. He was perpendicular to me in my lane of traffic. I was already going slow and I braked hard, but I was skidding and I knew there was no way I was going to stop in time. So I moved into the other lane of traffic, which fortunately was empty of oncoming vehicles.
That's when the second snowmobiler decided to try and cross, blocking that lane, too. Fortunately, there was just enough space in between them that I was able to get through. Had I not, the results would have been unthinkable.
So, with that story being said, now's a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of the following snowmobile safety tips.
Winter is a beautiful time to experience Michigan’s outdoors. Whether riding a portion of Michigan’s groomed snowmobile trails or riding an off-road vehicle (ORV) to a favorite remote icefishing hole, the Department of Natural Resources reminds riders to always exercise safety.
With more than 6,200 miles of designated groomed snowmobile trails located throughout state and federal forests, and many acres of privately owned lands, Michigan is one of the top snowmobiling destinations in North America. While the DNR does not recommend that riders operate on the ice, Michigan’s 11,000-plus lakes also tempt operators to ride on the frozen surfaces.
“With Michigan’s riding opportunities also comes inherent risks associated with motorsports,” said Gary Hagler, chief of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “It is each rider’s responsibility to ensure their safety and the safety of their passengers and bystanders.”
There are several common factors with snowmobile and ORV accidents in Michigan. The DNR urges snowmobilers and ORV operators to take simple precautions this winter season. Excessive speed, alcohol use, inexperience, failure to wear helmets, operating on roadways and unfamiliarity with terrain are some of the most common factors involved in accidents. Many fatal accidents have one or more common factors as contributing causes.
Snowmobilers and ORV operators are reminded to:
- Never operate under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Slow down
- Wear safety equipment such as a helmet, eye protection, protective clothing and insulated boots and gloves
- Always operate with the flow of traffic and stay as far to the right side of any legal road or trail
- Always keep a machine in top mechanical condition
- Never ride alone and always leave a travel plan with someone
- Avoid, when possible, operating on frozen bodies of water
- Avoid operating in a single file when operating on frozen bodies of water
- Wear a winter flotation suit whenever operating on the frozen surfaces of water
- Always be alert and avoid fences and low strung wires
- Always look for depressions in terrain
- Only carry passengers when the machine is designed to do so
- Ensure that headlights and tail lights are on at all times
- When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise up off the seat and look for on-coming traffic
- Always check the weather conditions before departure
- Bring a cell phone and other basic safety gear (something to start a fire with, rescue throw rope, self-rescue ice spikes, tow strap, flashlight, compass, blanket, etc.)
Persons interested in finding a safety course, go online to www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on the “Education & Outreach” menu and then select Hunter Education & Recreational Safety Classes. Safety training classes are offered in a classroom setting and some are available online.