Snowmobiling got its start in the state of Wisconsin, where 200,000 snowmobiles are registered. Thousands of people of all ages will ride on the state’s network of more than 25,000 designated trails this winter. Snowmobiling can be great fun, but parents should make sure their snowmobiling children stay safe.
The state of Wisconsin requires snowmobile riders born on or after Jan. 1, 1985, and who are at least 12 years old to complete a safety certification course unless they go snowmobiling on private land. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to operate snowmobiles on Wisconsin public lands without a parent or guardian riding with them on the vehicle. Kids under 16 must complete a snowmobile safety class to ride legally on public trails and roads.
The reason for these rules is clear: In the 2011-2012 season, 10 people died in Wisconsin snowmobile crashes, and 73 injury accidents were reported. In January 2012, a 6-year-old child was injured in a snowmobile wreck that killed the driver. The child was riding on the back of the snowmobile and did not have a helmet.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers the following safety tips for all snowmobile riders:
Preteen snowmobile riders are especially vulnerable. The American Council of Snowmobile Associations has safety recommendations to keep young riders from being hurt or killed in snowmobile wrecks.
Hints for teen and preteen snowmobilers and their parents include:
The Wisconsin Medical Journal concluded that male riders are injured in more snowmobile accidents than female riders. This held true for preteens as well — boys were hurt in snowmobiling wrecks more than four times as frequently as girls. From 1998 to 2002, 14% of snowmobile crash hospitalizations involved children.
Although some snowmobile enthusiasts believe that preteens and children can ride safely, some medical safety advocates disagree. Caring for Kids, an association of Canadian pediatricians, states that kids under the age of 16 should not ride snowmobiles at all due to the risk of crash injury or death.