• Ronald Wittmeyer
  • April 10, 2014

While the rest of us were stuck in traffic behind plows, many were snowmobiling across portions of Illinois and the Midwest. With winter snowfall accumulations approaching 70 inches, the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago are slated to have had the 5th copious amount of snow has been welcomed by some. At the top of the list of excited Illinoisans: snowmobilers. In recent years snow accumulations have lulled, but the 2013/2014 winter season did not disappoint, and snowmobilers were out in force. With a renewed interest in this winter activity, it is always good to know how to keep safe on these vehicles, and what sort of laws Illinois has in place for its snowmobiling enthusiasts.

There are almost 34,000 registered snowmobiles in Illinois. While driving one of these super-fast machines can be a great rush, it can also be extremely dangerous. In fact, not including statistics from this year, there have been 230 snowmobiling accidents including 18 deaths in the state since 2007. According to Conservation Police, most of the accidents and fatalities they see could have easily been prevented. Not surprisingly, many of the accidents were also brought on by alcohol and high speeds.

Many people seem to think that once you are on a snowmobile, all traffic laws are out the window. In Illinois, this is not the case. Under the Snowmobile Safety and Registration Act, agents of the Department of Natural Resources or other duly authorized police officers may stop and inspect any snowmobile at any time for the purpose of determining if the provisions of this Act are being complied with. That means you can be legally pulled over on a snowmobile for absolutely no reason at all. This act provides regulations against things like snowmobiling too fast for conditions, trespassing and endangering others. But, the Act also allows provisions for driving under the influence. Just like in a car, if an officer suspects you are under the influence, there is implied consent for a chemical tests. If you fail these tests you will be arrested and charged with a class a misdemeanor. In other words, don’t drink and operate a snowmobile for the safety of yourself and others.

Defensive Snowmobiling Tactics

Speaking of safety, the number one thing to stay safe is to be a defensive driver while snowmobiling. Your helmet and engine noise can impair your hearing. Visibility is also many times inhibited due to snowfall or night riding. So, you need to expect the unexpected. In case of emergency you should also always carry a kit with you. This kit might include things like: spare belts, spark plugs, duct tape, a pry bar, tow rope, a knife, etc. Last but not least you need to dress appropriately. Make sure you dress in layers with a wind-proof outer layer. A safety- certified helmet is also a must.

Snowmobiling will always be fun and it will always be dangerous. Remember to follow simple driving rules just like you would in a car. Also remember to drive defensively and always be prepared before going on a snowmobiling excursion because you truly are at the mercy of the elements.

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