As winter approaches, car owners nationwide prepare themselves for the annual nightmare of piloting their vehicles through ice, sleet and snow. Slogging from Point A to Point B becomes exponentially more difficult as traffic is slowed by slippery conditions. Town or county workers try and combat this problem by plowing roads and salting them over with ice. Even still, many light cars will find themselves sliding from the road, fighting for traction as they are forced to navigate around crashes caused by the snow.
There is another part of the population, though, whose reaction to wintry weather is much more optimistic. In the United States of America, there are approximately 1.3 million registered snowmobiles, and their owners greet snowfall less as a complication and more as a welcome challenge. Snowmobiles, which are also known as sleds or snow-machines, are designed to travel across the snow and ice. Outfitted with Kevlar-composite tracks at the rear, which help provide the propulsion, and skis in the front, which are used to steer the craft, snowmobiles provide a great way to travel across snowy plains. Most snowmobiles accommodate two riders, though some, which are capable of fording deeper snow and traversing more mountainous terrain, are built for only one rider.
Despite the fact that snowmobiles are designed for winter transport, there are still risks inherent to traveling through snow. There are many marked trails, which carve through snow-covered alpine terrain, that were designed solely for recreational snowmobile use. However, many snowmobilers opt to ride on their own private land, or through public spaces which don’t necessarily provide predesignated trails or courses. Snow can hide objects such as boulders or fallen trees, and unsuspecting snowmobile drivers are liable to crash into these submerged hazards. Also, while all snow and ice is slick, by nature, backwoods areas can vacillate wildly in surface texture. Patches of ice can crop up unpredictably and without warning, which can surprise snowmobile operators and cause them to lose control.
Snowmobile Accidents in Upstate NY
A tragic accident brought to light just how dangerous riding a snowmobile can be. In the small town of Floyd, New York, a 16-year-old boy died from wounds sustained after his snowmobile crashed into a tree. Nicholas Martin was riding east on the Penn Mountain Snowmobile Trail, with a friend riding along as a passenger. He lost control of his craft, and the snowmobile left the trail, into a wooded area. Caleb Martin, 13 years old, who was riding behind Nicholas, swerved to avoid the site of the crash. The accident occurred at around 8 p.m., near East Floyd Road and Camroden Road. Local police, ambulances, and the Floyd and Barneveld fire departments converged on the scene, racing to find the injured teenagers. All three boys were rushed to nearby St. Elizabeth hospital, but only Nicholas succumbed to his injuries.
When accidents like these take place, whole communities are left grieving and wondering if there were things they could have done. Accidents do happen, but there are precautions you can take to minimize the likelihood that you will be involved in an accident like this. Next, we’ll cover a lot of these safety facts, which will keep you and your family safe as you enjoy the use of your snowmobiles.
Snowmobile Safety Facts
When riding a snowmobile, there are some specific safety measures that all responsible riders follow. Remember, while it’s important to try and memorize all of the following points, what’s most important is using your own sense of discretion and practicality. Employing a general sense of care and, if you’re an adult, attentively supervising any younger participants, is a great way to get started down the path of safety.
That being said, here are some things you should try and remember while snowmobiling:
- Never drive a snowmobile over 55 MPH. This could be considered the maximum overall speed at which it’s safe to pilot a snowmobile. Certain situations affect riding conditions, however. If the weather is bad, and visibility is decreased, it’s probably best to drive even more slowly than 55 MPH.
- Never, ever drive a snowmobile while using drugs or alcohol. An intoxicated rider’s ability to anticipate obstacles and react to hazardous situations is diminished greatly. Furthermore, it is illegal to operate a snowmobile while under the influence.
- Always wear the proper safety equipment, including but not limited to: fitted helmets, thick layers of clothing, protective eyewear, reinforced gloves, and sturdy boots. It’s technically legal to forgo wearing a helmet if you are operating a snowmobile on land you own, but it is unwise to do so.
- Always make use of headlights, and make sure all other required signaling lights are operational and clearly visible.
- Do not speed near homes or occupied establishments between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. If you are using your snowmobile overnight, and your path takes you within 100 ft. of a home, go only as fast as is absolutely necessary. In fact, one should always reduce speed at night, in conditions of poor visibility, and around curves.
- Do not tow toboggans, sleighs or inflatable tubes behind your snowmobile without the required equipment. A rigid tow bar is the authorized apparatus for towing. Even with the correct equipment, it’s important to use caution when towing, and it’s important that you tow only in areas where such practices are allowed.
- Do not ride your snowmobile on private property without the consent of the homeowner or landowner.
- Do not use your snowmobile on railroad tracks.
- Do not take your snowmobile onto state highways, unless they have designated lanes which specifically allow for snowmobile traffic. Special exceptions are made for snowmobile drivers looking to cross a highway. In these cases, highway crossings should take place only at designated junctions. You must approach these junctions at 90-degree angles, come to a complete stop, and yield to all oncoming traffic before crossing. Respect for larger traffic is vital when riding a snowmobile on roadways of any kind. Trucks and cars are both much larger and more powerful than snowmobiles, and should be ridden alongside with caution.
- Snowmobiles are not permitted on the New York State Thruway except in the event of a snow emergency.
- Do not tow a person on skis, a sled, or a toboggan on any roadway.
- Exercise extreme caution when crossing frozen lakes on your snowmobile. You should always make sure that the ice is of adequate thickness before crossing. Once on the lake, you should avoid fishermen, ice skaters, and other snowmobilers at all costs.
- Always heed all posted safety signs.
- Try to keep to properly marked and clearly delineated trails and paths. Venturing into the unknown could result in collisions with hazardous, submerged obstacles.
- If you are untrained or rusty on any of these rules, attend a safety training course.
It is clear — riding a snowmobile can be dangerous. Snowmobile crashes have been known to cause brain, neck and spine injuries which can result in paralysis, loss of mental function, and even death.
Snowmobile Quick Facts
- In 2015 alone, over 150,000 snowmobiles were sold worldwide, with the United States of America accounting for a staggering 58,000 of those sales.
- The average North American snowmobile user travels approximately 1,500 miles per year on their snowmobile.
- There are about 225,000 miles of marked and groomed snowmobile trails in North America. Snowmobilers in the U.S. and Canada often form tightknit groups, and many snowmobile clubs are responsible for donating thousands of dollars to charity annually. Snowmobile-enthusiast landowners, local clubs, and government agencies are known to form coalitions that raise money — money which goes not only toward the maintenance and creation of snow trails, but is also reinvested into the community.
- Snowmobiling is a good form of exercise and stress relief. However, riding a snowmobile can also lead to accidents. Luckily, it seems that users are preparing more diligently and riding more safely, as accident rates have trended downward in recent years. According to recent data collected by the New York State Parks Department, there were only 204 snowmobile accidents reported during the 2014-15 season. While this is an uptick from the record low of 101 accidents, set in 2012, it is a far cry from the early 2000s. From the year 2000 until 2005, the snowmobile accident figures were as follows: 459, 316, 665, 507, and 449. Likewise, snowmobile-related fatalities are also down in recent years. The 2014-15 season saw only 10 deaths, compared to 31 in 2003.
How to Register Your Snowmobile
Trekking through the snow may be the fun part of owning a snowmobile, but before you get there, it’s important that you first register your craft. What follows is a detailed overview of the registration process.
- Acquire and fill-out a Snowmobile Registration Application (MV-82SN). This form requires some basic personal information, as well as certification of membership to a local Snowmobile Club. (Some areas require only registration before they allow access, though some private areas will open their trails only to members of a Snowmobile Club.) The MV-82SN form must be filed at your local DMV.
- Pay fees and sales tax at the DMV. (Or show a proof of sales tax payment or exemption. Non-residents aren’t required to pay NYS sales tax.)
- Show proof of ownership and a bill of sale. (Non-residents may show photocopies of this information.)
- Show current, non-expired NYS Driver’s License, Learner’s Permit or Non-Driver ID Card proving identity and age. (You must be 16 years old to legally register a snowmobile in New York State.)
- Pay $100 registration fee. (Cash, check and credit cards are accepted. If you have a valid New York State Snowmobile Association voucher, the registration fee is reduced to $45.)
- If you are not a New York resident, it is possible to file for a temporary registration, which will allow you to utilize your snowmobile lawfully during your visit. If your vehicle is already registered in your home state, you can fill out an out-of-state registration form, which you can download and print for quick access. This temporary certificate provides you with a 15-day window in which you can use your snowmobile in New York.
According to the NYSSA, there are over 10,500 miles of trails in New York State (depending on snow cover), and you are free to experience them all for one year once you’ve registered your snowmobile. Your registration fees help groom and maintain preexisting trails and help fund the creation of new trails across the state.
Kaplan Lawyers PC
At Kaplan Lawyers PC, the safety of our readers and clients is of paramount importance to us. We truly believe that if you have read over this page carefully, then you have already put yourself in a position where you’re less likely to be injured in a snowmobile accident. If you file the right paperwork, take the proper safety courses, and always adhere to the safety information that we’ve listed above, then you are ready to ride a snowmobile. For some, riding snowmobiles is a matter of choosing the mode of conveyance best suited to their particular living conditions. For those who live in the rural north, where well-paved and routinely-plowed roads may not be readily available, snowmobiles provide a safer alternative to cars and a more fuel-efficient and agile alternative to trucks. For others, snowmobiles are recreational crafts, allowing them to delight in the high-speed thrills of traversing snowy terrain. Though the two usages differ, the mindsets and intentions of all riders should be the same. The approach should always be one of caution, and both sets of snowmobile users should remain mindful of the safety protocol we overviewed here.
If an accident does occur, it is important to trust a law firm that is dedicated to preserving the rights of the snowmobile riders of New York State. At Kaplan Lawyers PC, we have an experienced team of attorneys ready and capable to help you through your time of need. If you were hurt due to faulty trail markers, or improperly maintained trails, or the negligence of another, it may be within your rights to sue. As you focus on recovering from your injuries, we can win you the compensation that will help cover your expensive medical bills. Your first step should be scheduling a consultation with us. At Kaplan Lawyers PC, our consultations are a free and easy way to learn about your rights and begin working on the foundations of your case. So if you’ve been hurt, contact us today.
Attorney Jared S. Kaplan
Attorney Jared S. Kaplan has focused his career on advancing his legal knowledge though the day to day practice of law. Jared is a partner in the law firm of Kaplan Lawyers PC in Syosset, New York and has been a practicing attorney for nearly 20 years. His career started in litigation, so Jared is aware of the pitfalls in litigation and uses that knowledge in the representation of his clients in complex matters. [ Attorney Bio ]