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Don't let winter fun turn tragic

It's devastating when the Midwest's winter playland turns deadly and claims the lives of those who are just out for some fun. But the tragic fact of those deaths and so many other fatal snowmobile accidents over the years is that they could have been prevented.

This week is Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week in Minnesota. Governor Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association are reminding snowmobilers to keep safety at the front of their minds.

To legally ride a snowmobile in Minnesota, residents born after Dec. 31, 1976 need a valid snowmobile safety certificate. More than 1,800 volunteer instructors teach DNR snowmobile safety courses across the state. For more information on the dates and locations of these courses, visit the DNR website at or call 1-800-366-8917.

DNR and MnUSA remind snowmobilers of a few basic safety tips:

• Don't drink and drive. Alcohol can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking may drive too fast or race across unsafe ice. Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, increasing the likelihood of hypothermia.

• Slow down. Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should drive at a pace that allows ample reaction time for any situation. When driving at night, a speed of 40 miles an hour may result in "over driving" the headlight, so the driver can't react in time to avoid danger.

• Be prepared. When traveling, bring a first aid kit, a flashlight, waterproof matches, and a compass.

• Ice advice. Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness and strength on lakes and ponds. Snow cover can act as a blanket to prevent safe ice from forming. Never travel in a single file when crossing bodies of water.

• Dress for success. Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice and flying debris. Clothing should be worn in layers and should be just snug enough so that no loose ends catch in the machine.

• Watch the weather. Rapid weather changes can produce dangerous conditions.

• Bring a buddy. Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in some personal injury. The most dangerous situations occur when a person is injured and alone. When traveling alone, tell someone the destination, planned route and expected return time.

• Report accidents. Snowmobile operators involved in accidents resulting in medical attention, death or damage exceeding $500 must file an official accident report through the county sheriff's office within 10 days.

For a copy of DNR's 2011-12 Minnesota Snowmobile Safety Laws, Rules and Regulations handbook, call toll-free 1-888-646-6367. It's also available on the DNR's website at

-- Alexandria Echo Press