Alcohol and Snowmobiling a Deadly Combination

In the 12 years between 1987 and 1998, snowmobile crashes killed 1,046 people in Canada. A study of these fatalities found that vehicle operators accounted for over 80 per cent of the deaths. (Drivers represent just under half of highway traffic fatalities.)

The data reveal a distinct high-risk profile: a male in his mid 20s or 30s who operates a snowmobile after drinking on weekend nights.

A recent Ontario study which examines sports/recreational injuries in 1999-2000 highlights the severity of the problem. Almost half of hospitalizations involved motor vehicles. Of these, the highest proportion (one-third) were snowmobiles. Snowmobiling injuries were more severe and resulted in longer hospital stays than other recreational injuries. Alcohol was found in 65 per cent of those hospitalized for major snowmobiling injuries.

These data clearly show that the impaired driving problem does not stop where the road ends. Under the Criminal Code of Canada it is a criminal offense to operate a motorized snow vehicle while impaired or with a BAC over 80 mg/dl. The same sanctions apply as for impaired driving on our highways.

The difficulty of enforcing the law off-road is a major obstacle. Countermeasures which have proven successful against impaired driving need to be explored. New approaches may be needed to prevent and catch offenders.

Another challenge is the practice of combining alcohol consumption with recreational snowmobiling. Thanks to public education, drinking and driving has become more and more socially unacceptable. The same attitude change must be achieved among snowmobilers.

Douglas Beirness, Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, September-October 2001
Ontario Trauma Registry Bulletin, July 31, 2001, published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information