The needless, accidental death of a young, healthy person in the prime of their life is profoundly tragic.

Over the years, we have all seen teenage drivers, who thought that they were immortal, die on our highways. Seat belts, mandatory driver education and stiffer age requirements have helped to stem the tide of youthful deaths and injuries on our highways, but there is a new and worrisome highway danger for all who drive: young drivers texting behind the wheel.

Often, these sudden, shocking deaths happen when the victims are least expecting it, when they are having fun or sharing laughter and good times with close friends.

Like snow sledding a woods trail on a cold, silent winter evening in early February.

This winter, Maine’s snowmobile safety record has not been good. More and more, it seems, Maine’s highly popular winter recreational activity, snowmobiling, is being plagued by deaths on the trail.

On February 18, an Etna man died just after midnight while snowmobiling with two friends on ITS 85 in Newport. According to the Maine Warden Service, Jack McKay, 36, from Etna failed to negotiate a corner in the trail and hit a tree.

McKay was Maine’s sixth snowmobile fatality this winter, and the season is only half gone. The day before the Etna man died on ITS 85, a woman snowmobiler was killed in Buxton when she crossed a highway and was hit by an oncoming vehicle.

Why does this happen? Why do people who are out to have fun wind up not coming home, or survive only to be haunted for a lifetime with the awful memory of having lost a friend to a violent death out on the trail?

Ask any game warden or police officer who responds to snow sled fatalities and you will no doubt be told that these snowmobile deaths are an old story. You could write the script. In most of the fatality cases, the snowmobile operator drives too fast for conditions. He or she loses control, goes off the trail and hits a tree. Often, but not always, alcohol is a factor.

Wherever snowmobilers gather, as families at the camp or meetings at snowmobile clubs, it needs to be said again and again: He or she goes too fast, loses control, goes off the trail and hits a tree. Another statistic.

It’s become a shopworn safety slogan, but it applies so aptly to Maine’s spiraling number of snow sled trail crashes: accidents don’t just happen, they are caused and are the result of inattention and careless behavior.

Maine, with its 14,500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and ample snow cover, can be a sledder’s dream. If you are a snowmobiler, have a talk with yourself and those you care about. Ride responsibly and never drink and drive. The alternative could become your worst nightmare.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors,” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at

Comments are not available on this story.