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Michigan Snowmobile Season: Tips for Staying Safe on the Trails This Winter

Michigan Snowmobile Season: Tips for Staying Safe on the Trails This Winter

Don’t get us wrong. Snowmobile excursions are some of the most fun you can have during Michigan winter. But snowmobile journeys can present tragic outcomes, especially due to such risks as hypothermia, the possibility of unsafe ice on frozen rivers and lakes (last year a local man’s death made national news after his snowmobile crashed through thin ice on Wolverine Lake), and the dangers you could encounter in remote areas of Michigan’s backwoods. Not to mention that snowmobiles aren’t equipped with some of the helpful safety features which help make cars safer, such as seatbelts, airbags, and antilock brakes. And let’s be painfully honest: snowmobile drivers can sometimes act imprudently – driving recklessly through the snow or including excessive alcohol consumption. All of these factors contribute to crashes that make tragic headlines on a regular basis across the state.

In fact, hundreds of Michiganders were injured in snowmobile accidents last year. Not only that, but more than a dozen folks have already died in Michigan snowmobile-related accidents since January 2022. As noted, many of those deaths were caused by excessive speed, while alcohol consumption also contributed to quite a few. Additionally, hidden obstacles underneath snow cover and careless driving were blamed for a number of crashes, as was the case last February when one Indiana visitor in the U.P. was nearly crushed to death by other snowmobile operators who were following him too closely. All this may leave you asking yourself the following questions:

Where in Michigan Can I Safely Operate a Snowmobile?

Michigan has more than 6,000 miles of designated snowmobile trails, many of which are even groomed when there’s adequate snow coverage. Since those trails are well marked and usually far away from roads where other vehicles present dangers to snowmobile operators, they’re probably the best places to ride. This interactive map can help you find marked trails near your location. Trail permits are required; you’ll find details on getting yours here.

If you’d rather go the trail less traveled, you can also seek permission from private property owners to ride on their land. But if you’re operating your snowmobile in unfamiliar territory, keep your eyes open for such hazards as boulders and tree stumps, which could be covered by drifts.

While doing so is permitted under state law, riding your snowmobile along the margins of roads meant for cars is probably not the best idea. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what happens to a 400-pound snowmobile when it collides with a two-ton pickup. If you must ride on a public roadway, stay as far to the right as possible, travel in a single file line, and go along with the direction of motor vehicle traffic.

What Should I Do After a Snowmobile Accident?

As with any situation where people are injured, dial 911 right away so first responders can get to the scene as quickly as possible. In the cold, it’s important to try to prevent victims from experiencing hypothermia. Wrap them in blankets to keep them as warm as possible. Since much body heat is lost through the head and exposed skin, be sure everyone is wearing a hat and gloves (mittens are even better). If someone is bleeding, apply pressure to the wound to help stop the flow of blood. In short, do everything you learned in basic first aid until emergency personnel arrive. The CDC offers a number of specific winter-related health tips for staying safe on the snow as well.

Where Do the Most Snowmobile Accidents Occur in Michigan?

It will probably come as no surprise that the highest number of snowmobile crashes take place where there’s the most snow – and that’s usually way up north in the Upper Peninsula. In fact, the U.P.’s Alger and Mackinac Counties have seen the highest number of snowmobile fatalities so far this year, and the most reported snowmobile-related accidents have occurred in Ontonagon County. But the Lower Peninsula isn’t immune to the problem. Antrim and Roscommon Counties have seen multiple crashes already this year. As the state reported, there was even a February death in Wayne County, when the rider ran into an embankment as he was driving his snowmobile down a frozen canal of the Huron River.

Does My No-Fault Car Insurance Protect Me on My Snowmobile?

The simple answer is no. Since your snowmobile isn’t legally considered a motor vehicle, typical No-Fault coverage doesn’t apply. In fact, Michigan doesn’t even require snowmobile owners to buy insurance coverage, though it’s probably a good idea to protect yourself at least by purchasing a liability policy. Comparison site Value Penguin has some recommendations, or you can check with your insurance agent for more information.

However, one recent decision by the Michigan Supreme Court does have an impact on how state-owned snowmobiles are viewed under the law. The court ruled that snowmobiles operated by DNR officers don’t fall under governmental immunity laws and can be treated as motor vehicles. This decision was reached after an incident where two snowmobilers were injured in an accident where the officers were traveling the wrong direction on their snowmobiles, forcing the other drivers from the road where they crashed.

What Are Michigan’s Snowmobile Rules and Regulations?

While you aren’t required to insure your snowmobile, you must register it with the state (unless you use it exclusively on private land). One easy way to get your permit online is through the Michigan Snowmobile and ORV Association, which also posts reports on trail conditions. And if you’re under 17 years of age, you are also required to pass a snowmobile safety certification class. Regardless of your age, you’ll need to follow Michigan laws regarding snowmobile operation and obey some basic rules spelled out in the state’s official snowmobile regulation handbook. Among them …

“A Person Shall Not Operate a Snowmobile:

  1. While under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  2. at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable for existing conditions.
  3. On the frozen surface of public waters within 100 feet of a person, including a skater, not in or upon a snowmobile.
  4. Within 100 feet of a dwelling between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. at a speed greater than the minimum required to maintain forward movement of the snowmobile.
  5. While transporting a bow unless it is unstrung or encased, or a firearm unless it is unloaded and securely encased.
  6. To chase, pursue, worry or kill any wild bird or animal.”

Can I Sue After a Snowmobile Accident?

Follow the rules when you’re operating a snowmobile, and you’ll find it’s an enjoyable and safe way to have some wintertime fun. But if you’re ever injured when you’re on your snowmobile due to someone else’s negligence, we encourage you to contact us to discuss the circumstances of the crash and to describe the type and extent of your injuries. It’s possible you will be able to receive legal compensation, and we’ll do our best to help you achieve your desired outcome. Should the catastrophic occur and a loved one is ever killed in a snowmobile-related accident, you may find that a wrongful death lawsuit is warranted. Again, the first step to determine your rights in these situations is to call us immediately. Keep this number handy: 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or contact us online. We’ll be there to answer your call anytime – winter, spring, summer or fall.

Michigan Snowmobile Season: Tips for Staying Safe on the Trails This Winter

Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.