Snowmobiling and safety woes

ome Central Alberta snowmobile groups support driver training legislation to make the recreational sport safer.
The Alberta Snowmobile Association is lobbying the provincial government to have mandatory driving training for 12- to 16-year-olds.
“I think that would be a really good spot to start,” says Louise Sherren, executive director of the association. “That’s about the age when kids are starting to ride independently.”
Caroline Snowmobile Club president James Brady said he’d be in favour of the mandatory training.
“Anything like that is well worth it,” he said. “Any education they can get prevents bad habits.”
Darcy Dyrland, president of the David Thompson Snow Riders, would also support such legislation.
“If they can make people aware of the dangers and the proper way to operate a snowmobile, we’d eliminate a lot of the accidents we are having,” Dyrland said. “I think the thought is there are no laws for snowmobiling, so you can go out and do whatever you please with them.”
The Sled Smart Snowmobile Safety and Education Campaign has been a primary focus of the association’s safety efforts, targeting Grade 7-9 students in rural areas where snowmobiling is popular.
Sherren said mandatory training could mean young snowmobilers carrying something like a learner’s permit.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet in our efforts because our Sled Smart program has been so successful,” she said. “We are getting our message out there. The important thing is that people get some basic training before they start out there.”
Brady said some discussion among snowmobile groups has been towards licensing all snowmobilers. A snowmobiling safety course is available for those who want it, but Brady adds he can’t see it becoming mandatory for another five to 10 years.
“The government isn’t interested in enforcing something like that at this time,” he said. “We’re having enough trouble to make helmets law for snowmobilers.”
Snowmobile dangers have been heightened in recent weeks with five deaths in Quebec and one near Edmonton.
One man was killed near Barrhead northwest of Edmonton on Feb. 9 and another male snowmobiler was injured most recently on Feb. 15 night near Leduc. Both struck barbed wire fences.
Five people were killed over the Feb. 10 weekend in Quebec. A four-year-old girl riding on the back of a snowmobile with her uncle was one of the victims.
Five health authorities, including David Thompson, recorded the numbers of emergency department visits for the top five winter sports, during the period of Oct. 1, 1999, to March 31, 2013, and Oct. 1, 2013, to March 31, 2013. Hockey was tops with 9,339, followed by snowboarding (3,624), skiing (1,986), ice skating (1,125), tobogganing/sledding/tubing (1,011) and snowmobiling (343).
On the other hand, snowmobiling ranked first in hospital admissions. It came in at 18.7 per cent, followed by skiing at 12.5 per cent, tobogganing/sledding/tubing at 9.5 per cent, ice skating at 7.1 per cent , snowboarding at 6.9 per cent and hockey at three per cent.
“I think people realize there’s an inherent risk with snowmobiling and I think if you look at the incidents that are happening, people are making some poor choices out there,” Sherren said. “We certainly have less injuries but our injuries are more serious.”
But she also noted there are thousands of snowmobilers who are riding responsibly.
Dyrland said groomed trails are a safe way to enjoy sledding. Snowmobilers can buy a $60 season pass and take advantage of numerous trails through the province.
The David Thompson Snow Riders have a safety director and members maintain well-marked trails from Sylvan Lake to Eckville, and from Eckville north to the Gilby Community Centre.
The message also needs to get out on drinking and sledding, according to Dyrland.
“People just think they can drink and drive a snowmobile when it’s just like a vehicle,” he said.
Dyrland admitted it was something he and other friends used to do in their younger days.
“It was the thing to do, whereas now our thought has totally changed,” he said.