CONTACT:
Maj. Tim Acerno: (603) 271-3129
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
January 2, 2004

Many Snowmobile Accidents Are Preventable

CONCORD, N.H. -- In December 2003, a 14-year-old boy riding a snowmobile in Gorham hit moguls on a trail, slid backward on the big machine and in a desperate effort to hang on, inadvertently gripped the gas throttle, sending him plowing into a tree in a fatal collision. This tragic accident echoes the findings of a grim report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Last winter (2002-2003) was the deadliest snowmobile season in 12 years in northern New England, with a total of 28 snowmobile-related deaths in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Many of these accidents could have been prevented, according to Maj. Tim Acerno, coordinator of New Hampshire Fish and Game's Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle (OHRV) Program.

"For one thing, children should be supervised until they build up their experience and confidence levels enough to deal with the unexpected," says Acerno. "Even if kids have completed a snowmobile safety class, as the Gorham boy had, they still need adult oversight and the chance to gain more experience."

Experience prepares snowmobilers to handle a variety of conditions they may encounter on the trail. Just as new winter drivers sometimes hit the car brakes on an icy patch of road, inexperienced snowmobile riders can react to hazardous situations in ways that jeopardize their safety. That's why Acerno recommends that all new snowmobilers get in plenty of trail time in the company of more experienced riders before heading out on the trails on their own. One of the easiest ways to do this is to join a snowmobile club, participate in club activities and take advantage of group rides to get out on the trails with experienced riders. To find out how to become involved with a snowmobile club, visit the N.H. Snowmobile Association website, www.nhsa.com.

Another key to snowmobile safety is selecting the right machine. "Make sure you choose a snowmobile that's appropriate for your experience level and the type of riding you want to do," Acerno says. "You're headed for trouble when a new rider -- or someone who hasn't been on a machine in a long time -- heads out on the trails with more horsepower than he or she can handle." New Hampshire offers many miles of groomed trails, so, for most people, moderately powered "touring" snowmobiles are all that's ever needed. "Inexperienced riders shouldn't be taking off on powerful sport machines with rapid acceleration -- it's a recipe for disaster," Acerno says. For help choosing a machine that meets your riding needs, consult with an authorized snowmobile dealer, call your local snowmobile club or contact Fish and Game at (603) 271-3129.

Another safety concern -- related to this year's unusual weather patterns -- is that ice and snow conditions have been unpredictable over much of the state this winter. With icy trails and occasional bare patches of ground, riders need to carefully adhere to speed limits (maximum of 45 mph on trails, 10 mph at trail intersections, or as posted); be prepared to slow down for icy turns; and stay on designated trails. "This year, it's especially important to stay on established trails when you snowmobile," Acerno says. Last month, several adult riders left designated trails and fell through the ice at the Hopkinton-Everett Flood Control Area. "These weren't fatal incidents, but those riders were plenty cold and wet," says Acerno. "If you stay on a designated trail, the snowmobile club will generally have hazards clearly marked so you can avoid them."

Another place accidents can occur is on active state-owned railroad lines. Once lines open for snowmobiling (generally in January), these areas are clearly posted, but Acerno warns that snowmobilers must stay off until they see the signs. "We've had some close calls with snowmobilers on the railroad lines," says Acerno. "Unless you see an 'open' sign, stay off and stay safe."

Acerno strongly recommends checking trail conditions before you head out to snowmobile, especially if you're planning to ride in an unfamiliar area. Get an update by visiting the N.H. Bureau of Trails website at www.nhtrails.org; or by calling the N.H. Snowmobile Association hotline -- updated twice a week -- at (603) 740-5050. The importance of checking ahead for trail conditions was demonstrated recently when an irresponsible snowmobiler crashed through the ice on Opechee Lake and sent his machine to the bottom of the cove. Had he visited the Bureau of Trails website before he headed out, he would have read the clear warning that New Hampshire lakes and ponds were not completely frozen at that time, and that snowmobilers should stay off the ice. The rider survived, but had to spend $350 to have his machine removed from the lake.

Fish and Game coordinates free snowmobile education courses across the state to encourage safe and responsible riding; classes are required for all riders over age 12 who don't have a driver's license. Click here for a list of upcoming courses and OHRV laws.

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