Healthy Living: February 20, 2018

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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Snowmobiling is the most dangerous winter recreational activity. Throughout the winter season, and most alarmingly this year, we see a daily inflow of patients who have sustained injuries from snowmobile crashes. The injuries may be mild and localized but can also be deadly. We have lost two precious lives this last weekend because of a snowmobile crash.

Photo courtesy MGN Online Image Id: 353462 11/22/2016

It is an activity that Mainers enjoy quite a bit and that engage in quite frequently but it does require a certain level of maturity, skill, and experience. The spectrum of injuries sustained encompasses a wide variety of organs: traumatic brain injuries, chest injuries including rib fractures, spleen and liver injuries, as well fractured long bones. To avoid these injuries, it is crucial to use common sense and abide by some very basic safety rules. Children below the age of 16 should probably not operate snowmobiles. Being safe starts with unloading snowmobiles off trucks where you want to avoid crushing injury and strains. Always check the weather forecast and the state of the trails as you want to avoid ice at all cost. You want to also be well protected from hypothermia and frostbite by selecting appropriate garment and equipment. This will include a helmet (approved for snowmobiles), goggles, waterproof suits, and rubber-bottomed boots.

Snowmobile riders should aim to make themselves visible to others by either wearing bright colors or mountain bright colored flags on their snowmobiles. They should also carry an emergency kit or first aid kit and a method of communication in the case of accidents. Beginners should stick to groomed trails and drive only during the day. All snowmobilers should aim to travel at safe speeds especially on new terrain. It is recommended to keep the headlights on to improve visibility and to never carry more than one passenger. If they must pull another person, it should always be at very low speeds on a sled attached to the snowmobile by a rigid bar and not on a tire or a tube.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to never get on a snowmobile after consuming alcohol or any other type of drugs. A great number of snowmobile crashes that we encounter in the hospital are related to the consumption of alcohol. It is by far more dangerous to drive a snowmobile then to drive a car because of the exposure to the environment and the unpredictable terrain therefore any alteration of the senses, speed of reflexes, or judgment can result in very dramatic consequences. It is important to enjoy the winter as safely as possible. The toll that snowmobile crashes take on lives and families can be extraordinary. Stay wise and safe.