Snowmobile Safety Courses: Should I or Shouldn’t I?
The list of questions that snowmobilers ask themselves before the riding season is long, and prioritizing that list poses even more questions. Is my club membership paid? When and where are the club work parties? Do I need a new sled? Will my current sled last the season? What will my significant other think of a new sled? Does my helmet match my jacket and ski pants? What color should the new sled be? Will the color of the decal match the color of the sled? The list goes on and on.
The question that is not answered, and most of the time never asked, is, “Should I take a snowmobile safety course?” Yes, I know that the law says anyone with a valid driver’s license can operate a snowmobile without taking a safety course. Anyone under 18 years old and over the age of 12 who does not have a valid driver’s license needs to show successful completion to operate off their own property. But older riders should consider taking a safety course, as well. Here’s why.
40+ Age Group Getting into Accidents
Looking at the data over the last 10 years, an alarming trend is showing up. The number of snowmobile accidents and fatalities has remained about the same, but one number has been increasing. Over the last few years, the number of accidents that involved people over the age of 40 has increased. Yes, we still see the “under 30” group banging and clanging machines on everything from the bottom of lakes/ponds to trees in the North Country, but it’s the demographic of the 40+ age group that I see getting into accidents year after year. I sit at my desk and ask, why? What is the cause? How do we as an agency proceed? After years of asking these questions, the answers finally came to me.
Why is this happening? Lack of safety education! How do we as an agency proceed? Provide more safety education!
I get calls every day asking about children signing up to take a safety course. A lot of times it’s grandparents making the call. As a parent of a young daughter and son, I understand why. We are busy with after-school events, scouts, sports and family adventures, work for my wife and myself, and the list goes on. I find myself asking my parents if they can help every day of the week. Most of our safety courses are listed as, “Parents are encouraged to attend” – and some say “Must attend.” The parents, in many cases, do attend the class, but the young ones are riding with their grandparents.
With a large group of Baby Boomers retiring and spending time together, we need to change our approach. The law states that a person with a valid driver’s license can operate in New Hampshire. I’m not saying that classes should be mandatory, but I highly recommend erring on the side of caution when deciding to take a safety course.
Classroom or Online?
Now, do you take a traditional course or the online course? The traditional course is taught throughout the state by a professional and dedicated group of volunteer instructors with the support of the club, or by a paid regional coordinator from Fish and Game. A Conservation Officer attends that class to go over the laws and rules and to answer any questions. This is usually a one-day class. The online course can be taken anytime from the comfort of your home. Both courses are at least 5½ hours long, plus a written test. Both are great, but the “flagship” course is and always will be the traditional course taught by our great volunteer instructors.
Much like me, many of you have a million and one questions that need to be answered before the first snowfall of the year. The holiday season is busy for all of us, and then snowmobile season will be upon us. I know the priority will still be new sled or old sled? And, if new, then what color? But please make taking a safety course the follow-up question. Things change every day in this sport, and staying on top of that is a full-time job for many. Taking a safety course will highlight many of these changes and give you a new appreciation for all other trail users! Please have fun this coming season and ride safe. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at the Fish and Game Department at Dennis.Etchells@wildlife.nh.gov or 603-271-3129.
Dennis A. Etchells, Jr, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, OHRV/Snowmobile Program Assistant