MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has now counted 15 snowmobile fatalities this season.
While that's less than the recent annual average, the DNR said most of the incidents could have been prevented.
A 13-year-old boy collided with a truck in Door County while riding his snowmobile Friday evening. That was the latest death, bringing the total to 15 for the season.
DNR Snowmobile Safety Administrator Gary Eddy said 11 of the 15 deaths this winter were connected to alcohol. He is constantly patrolling trails for people operating under the influence, and said those fined for the offense could have to pay up to $641.50.
Eddy also pushed the "zero alcohol" campaign with a sign on his own snowmobile, hoping the more people hear it, the more apt they are to adhere to the warning.
"It's just been a repetitive message that we've been putting out there ever since we've been investigating snowmobile accidents," Eddy said. "All we can do is keep hammering that message."
Eddy added speed is a common factor in snowmobile fatalities. He said people are either going too fast for the terrain or moving too quickly for their skill level. The fluxing temperatures this season have also created natural dangers that make it more difficult for sleds and their operators to maneuver the trails.
"The ice conditions were really poor in the beginning," Eddy explained. "Because we've got some cold temperatures followed by some warm temperatures and then it froze again, and that really caused some unstable ice conditions and we saw that in the earlier part of the season."
Eddy mentioned the DNR has seen four drownings this season, which is more than usual. He contributed part of that to temperatures that are constantly rising and dropping throughout the winter months.
Eddy said night driving has also been a factor in accidents this year. He explained operators will override their headlights, and as a result, not see a turn or object in front of them.
"A lot of people don't like to think about safety when they're out recreating and having fun, but it's very important with snowmobiles, because we do have these incidents and these crashes and these deaths," Eddy said.
The record number of snowmobile deaths for one season was 39 fatalities in the winter of 1999 and 2000.
Eddy reminded riders that anyone more than 12 years old who was born on or after January 1, 1985, is required to take a snowmobile training class. The DNR's web site has more information on classes.
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