Snowmobile crashes on Wisconsin trails have killed 24 riders so far this winter — up 40 percent from a year ago — but fewer than might be expected given snow conditions, a state safety expert said.
“With the really record snowfall across Wisconsin, I guess you would assume those fatality numbers would be higher, just because there is more riding opportunity,” Gary Eddy, snowmobile safety administrator for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said.
He credited the 55 mph nighttime speed limit on trails for holding down the deaths. The speed limit was instituted last year.
Over the past 12 years, Wisconsin has averaged 27 snowmobile deaths per season, according to DNR records. The record for snowmobiling deaths is 39 during the 1999-2000 winter, all of them occurring before Feb. 25.
Last year at this time, 17 people had died in snowmobile crashes — but that was considered an extremely poor snowmobiling year, Eddy said. This year, conditions are nearly ideal.
“Certainly in my lifetime, I don’t remember a season with such good winter conditions as we have this year,” Eddy said. “I have talked to some folks who snowmobile quite a bit. They really can’t remember a year like this.”
The snow has brought an increase in snowmobile registrations, typically about 215,000 per year, and deaths have increased with more people on the trails, he said. Snowmobile deaths have occurred this year in some places that historically don’t have them, such as Dodge and Monroe counties, he said.
Twin Lakes received 4 inches of fresh snow late Monday and early Tuesday, while Burlington received 3 inches, Union Grove 2, Madison 1.1 and Milwaukee 0.9 as heavier amounts fell slightly to the south in Illinois, the National Weather Service said.
The snowmobile season typically lasts until early March, at best, in southern Wisconsin and at least the second week of March in the far northern part of the state. But it could go longer if the weather stays cold.
Ice conditions on lakes were still good Monday with no major warmup yet forecast, Eddy said.
This season has seen more head-on crashes of snowmobiles, and Eddy said he wasn’t sure why.
“Certainly some of them involved intoxicated snowmobilers, but some involve operators who are not intoxicated,” he said.
Law enforcement officials are reporting more compliance with the 55 mph speed limit, which remains on the books through 2010, Eddy said.
“At night when you get speeds above 55 mph, there is basically no chance to stop or avoid hitting the hazard in front of you,” he said.
“When you are going at speeds above 55, about all you can do is just know you are going to hit something and brace yourself.”
Department of Natural Resources: /www.dnr.state.wi.us.
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.