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DNR: People need to ‘Ride Right’ when using snowmobiles

As snowmobilers look to enjoy one of the state’s most popular winter activities, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone to ride at a safe speed, on the right side of the trail and stay sober.

It’s all part of the DNR’s “Ride Right” snowmobile safety campaign, introduced last year. The department also is working with local law enforcement agencies to conduct snowmobile safety and sound patrols.

Lt. Jerry Fitzgibbon, the DNR’s acting law enforcement supervisor for the eastern Upper Peninsula, said they want the public to be aware of these patrols.

“We would rather tell people ahead of time that we will be conducting snowmobile patrols, hoping that they will slow down, instead of responding to an accident,” Fitzgibbon said.

The state has seen five snowmobile fatalities so far in 2019-20.

“We see a lot of accidents early in the season when people aren’t used to the snow,” said Lt. Jim Gorno, law enforcement supervisor for the DNR in Gaylord.

“Conditions change year to year and day to day,” Fitzgibbon said. “You can go out on a smooth trail and come home on the same trail, full of obstacles hidden under the snow. Slow down so you have enough space to stop with a clear distance.”

In the 2017-18 season, 80% of snowmobile accidents and deaths in the U.P. were caused by high speed, according to the Michigan Region 8 Trauma Network.

“Excessive speed, drugs and alcohol are among the top contributing factors for snowmobile accidents and fatalities,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, who manages the DNR’s recreational safety, education and enforcement programs. He offered these basic safety reminders:

— Ride within your limits;

— Keep all machines maintained;

— Ride sober and on the right side of the trail;

— Stay on the trail and be careful not to trespass on private property.

Additionally, several snowmobile trails already have been hit this season with ice storms and high waters, making the need for caution even more critical. DNR trail officials said riders should be aware of many potential hazards, including downed trees, deer, elevation changes and private driveways.

The DNR encourages all snowmobilers, regardless of age or experience, to take a snowmobile safety class. In Michigan, anyone age 12 to 16 is required take a Michigan-approved snowmobile safety course and obtain a snowmobile safety certificate to ride unsupervised or to operate a snowmobile across a road.

To learn more, go to Michigan.gov/Snowmobiling.

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