Healthy Living: January 21, 2020

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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - The snowmobile was designed to help move people and supplies across areas that were inaccessible by conventional vehicles. Its main use was in emergency situations. Snowmobiling has become a popular winter sport/recreational activity, and is enjoyed by more than two million people across North America. Unfortunately, there will be approximately 200 deaths and over 14,000 injuries this year. Often excess speed, alcohol, poor judgement, and driver inexperience are the leading causes of death and injuries. The injury patterns are similar to those seen in motor vehicles which often include fractures and head injuries. Head injuries being the leading cause of death. Some of these injuries can be prevented through education.

Drive defensively. Your visibility can be impaired by night driving or falling snow. Your helmet and engine noise can impair your hearing. It can be difficult to predict what others will do on the trail. Be sure to do everything you can to keep yourself and others safe. You should be mindful of thin ice/open water, obstacles beneath the snow, railway crossings, tree branches, and snow drifts. Never assume what another driver might do.

Don't drive under the influence. Driving a snow mobile requires alertness, caution, and your full attention. Your ability to perceive and react is impaired when you consume alcohol or other illicit substances. Alcohol has been shown to be a contributing factor in most fatal snowmobile accidents. Alcohol can also affect your ability to stay warm. Alcohol can cause your body to lose heat at an accelerated rate. If you're in a remote location your chance of survival can be significantly affected.

Don't ice ride. Drowning is one of the leading causes of snowmobile related deaths. Avoid driving on frozen lakes and rivers. Ice conditions can change in as little as several hours. If you must cross, try to stay on marked trails, and don't stop until you reach the other shore. If someone stops in front of you, veer off to make your own path. Make sure you bring proper equipment in case you end up in the water. Hypothermia accelerates with wind and wetness. Wearing water resistant clothing can be help but if submersed in water you must completely replace your cloths. Carry extra cloths and an emergency supply kit.
Machine and trail maintenance. Keep your machine in top shape. Reference you owner's manual and if you have any questions talk to a local snowmobile dealer. Your local club or association my also conduct safety and maintenance programs. Be sure to follow the local rules and regulations where you're riding. Certain rules and regulations may vary in different areas. Don't snowmobile alone, or if you are, let others know when you're planning a trip. Always be aware of changing weather conditions.

By following a few simple rules, you can reduce your chance of a snowmobile accident this season. More information can be easily found online. This includes safety courses. Several are offered though various organizations. Participation in such a course will teach you how to properly operate and maintain a snowmobile. These courses often emphasize laws, responsibilities, and personal safety. Some of these courses even teach basics in cold weather survival, navigation, and first aid which could prove useful for other outdoor adventures. Everyone should enjoy themselves this season but be mindful of their personal safety and the safety of others.

References:
1. Pierz, Joseph J. "Snowmobile Injuries in North America." Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12671482.

2. "Snowmobile Safety." Snowtracks, snowtracks.com/snowmobile-safety/.

3. "Snowmobile Safety." Snowmobile Safety: Safety Courses: Programs & Resources: Maine Dept of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, www.maine.gov/ifw/programs-resources/safety-courses/snowmobile-safety.html.