RUMFORD – Early into Monday’s snowstorm – the first measurable snow of the season – the state began warning snowmobilers to take it easy and be safe. Last winter, measurable snow didn’t fall until Valentine’s Day.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife sent an e-mail to 8,000 registered sledders that urged them to refresh safety skills by viewing an 18-minute video titled “Ride Right, Ride Smart,” and another on cold water survival.

After two mild winters, the message was sent to reduce accidents and fatalities, of which there have been an abundance.

“After two seasons of low snow levels, Maine finally is getting good snow for sledding,” Deborah Turcotte, the department’s acting director of public information and education, stated in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon. “We’re encouraging sledders anxious to get out on the trails to be safe, drive at reasonable speeds, and not drink and ride.”

The e-mail asked sledders to check their snowmobiles thoroughly to ensure safe operating conditions, to obey laws and signs pertaining to trails and access, to always get landowner permission before using private lands, to consider joining a snowmobile club, and never take any chances with early season ice conditions on any water.

The report also warned that low-lying areas may have occasional flowing water still running across roads that would be hazardous for fast-moving sleds.

Last winter, during which more than 91,700 people registered sleds, there were 172 snowmobile accidents in which 155 people were injured. Of the six people who were killed, alcohol was a factor in three. Wardens arrested 18 sledders, charging them with operating under the influence.

The fatal accidents occurred in Ashland, Baldwin, Farmington, Littleton, Naples and Norway, Turcotte said during a telephone interview. Three were in February, two were in March and the other happened in April prior to the Patriot’s Day snowstorm. Four of the six were wearing helmets.

During the 2005-06 season, in which more than 75,200 snowmobilers registered, there were 117 accidents, 92 injuries and seven people killed. Of the seven, Turcotte said all were wearing helmets.

When Maine last had good snowfall during the 2004-05 season, 103,000 sledders registered. That year there were 298 accidents, seven people were killed and 160 were injured. Fifteen people were arrested for drunken driving.

Turcotte said the most snowmobile fatalities was 16 during 2002-03, the season in which the most snowmobilers were ever registered – 107,300.

In contrast, there were no snowmobile fatalities during the winters of 1982-83 and 1986-87, the year that 56,580 people registered their sleds.

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