By Paul Mason

Monmouth Academy

In the past 2003 snowmobile season, there were 14 deaths and 286 accidents, which each caused at least one thousand dollars worth of damage. Game Wardens believe the high rise in collision is related to the growth of the sport of snowmobiling. Many factory ads have used speed as a selling point. Most snowmobiles today are able to reach speeds of one hundred miles per hour.

When the industry first started, most snow machines had top speeds below 60 miles per hour. Over 100,000 snowmobiles have been registered in the State of Maine. Today there are over 12,000 miles of maintained trails in Maine. This all boils down to a simple math equation, take a bunch of inexperienced operators on powerful sleds, and put them into a large area of groomed trails with very little law enforcement, and this equals horrific accident and death rates.

Many people have been trying to solve this problem by introducing new safety laws for snowmobiles. In the past years, our legislators have considered requiring riders to wear helmets and making age restrictions. I do not understand how these restrictions will reduce the high death numbers. While snowmobiling, most riders already wear helmets.

In most past snowmobiling accidents, the riders have been wearing Department of Transportation approved helmets. Thus, by making it a law to wear a helmet, it is not going to save lives; rather it is just going to make riders like ice fishermen have to pay fines for not wearing a helmet when they snowmobile out to check their traps. Many want to make age restrictions for snowmobile operators. By doing this, they believe they will eliminate the teen drivers who make the trail systems so dangerous by operating erratically. Once one sees a teen spin their track or go too fast, they immediately assume that they are the hazard to society. More adults are reported to be involved in serious accidents than teens. Why should the teens suffer when there are more adults who act recklessly?

If teens would not be able to operate their own snow sleds, families will turn towards other winter activities, such as skiing. This would mean less money for families who own snowmobile based businesses and less money in registration and taxes for the State. If we do not let teens operate snowmobiles until they are sixteen years old, they may hit the trails with less knowledge of snow machines and bigger egos. Instead of not letting these kids operate a snowmobile at all, let’s form a class, which will be mandatory for all children between the ages of twelve and sixteen years old.

There they would learn snowmobile laws and trail ethics This will teach them how to operate safely and give the experience to partake in fun sport. One of the many points they stress in driver education is that driving is dangerous. With a vehicle, you call seriously hurt or kill others and yourself. This is why they teach young drivers how to drive properly and make life saving decisions. Shouldn’t we make an attempt to teach our young operators the same thing?

Maine already has twenty pages of snowmobile laws. Many operators do not know the laws, and many of those who do know them, do not obey them. Some figure, why follow what the law states when no one is around to see what I am doing? Vehicle drivers follow the speed limits because they know that the police are watching them Just think how fast someone would go down the highway if the speed limits were not enforce.

That would have a direct relationship to the increase in automobile crashes. The law states that, “Sledders are judged by the standard of reasonable and prudent speed for the existing trails conditions.” This means that one should not be doing sixty miles an hour on bumpy, narrow trails. Likewise, I should not be limited to forty miles an hour on flat, wide, well groomed trails. Speed limits are set on roads based on the condition of the road. The problem with trying to apply this idea to trails is the conditions of the trail changes from day to day. This makes it hard to place a set speed limit on a trail.

In this past snowmobile season, I did not see any law enforcement official on snowmobile trails. Snowmobiliers will pay more attention to the way they operate their machines if they think there is a warden around the next bend watching them. Once we enforce our present snowmobile laws better, the accident and death rates will fall dramatically.

We need to have more Maine State Game Wardens patrolling the snowmobile trails. Colonel Timothy Peabody, Chief of the Maine Warden service says this best “when motorists see a state trooper, they slow down.

When they see a game warden on a trail, they’ll be more mindful, perhaps of how they operate their snowmobile.”If we take care of our present snowmobile laws, they will take care of us. Instead of making new laws, let’s try enforcing the old ones first.

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