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Snowmobiles: Safety tips for families

Highlights
  • Children and teens under 16 years of age should not operate snowmobiles.
  • Children under the age of 6 should never ride as passengers on a snowmobile.
  • Don’t pull people on saucers, tubes, tires, sleds or skis behind a snowmobile.

Snowmobiling is a popular winter activity in Canada. But each year, many people are seriously injured while snowmobiling. Head injuries are the leading cause of death and serious injury on snowmobiles.

Injury can happen when:

  • The snowmobile hits a tree, another snowmobile or other motorized vehicle,
  • a child or teen falls from the snowmobile, or the snowmobile rolls over them,
  • loading or unloading a snowmobile,
  • riding conditions are unsafe.

To safely drive a snowmobile, you need to be strong, skilled and mature. For this reason, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that:

  • Children and teens under 16 years of age should not operate snowmobiles.

It also takes strength and stamina to be a passenger on a snowmobile. Passengers need to hold on tight for a long period of time, which can be hard to do, especially when the snowmobile is running over bumpy ground at a high speed. For this reason:

  • Children under the age of 6 should never ride as passengers on a snowmobile.

How can snowmobiles be used safely?

If you’re a parent who operates a snowmobile, you can model safe behaviour by following these guidelines.

Before you go out

  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Check the condition of the trails. Do not snowmobile on ice if you’re not sure how thick it is or what condition it is in. In some areas, you may need to assess whether there is danger of an avalanche.
  • Be careful when fueling your snowmobile to avoid burns.
  • Take care when loading snowmobiles on and off trailers to prevent strains and crush injuries.
  • Learn the signs of hypothermia (when body temperature drops to dangerously low levels) and what to do if this happens.

Have the right equipment

  • Wear well-insulated protective clothing including goggles, waterproof snowmobile suits and gloves, and rubber-bottomed boots.
  • Drivers and passengers should wear helmets that  meet Canadian standards.
  • Snowmobiles should have brightly coloured antenna flags mounted on rods that are 1.2 m to 2.4 m long, located on the back of the snowmobile. This is especially important if you’re driving in a hilly area, so that others can see you.
  • Carry a first-aid kit, an emergency tool kit (with spark plugs, and drive and fan belts), an extra key, and a survival kit that includes flares. Carry a cellular phone if you’re in an area with service.

Drive safely

  • No one younger than 16 years old should drive your snowmobile.
  • Never allow children younger than 6 years old to ride as passengers.
  • Do not carry more than one passenger.
  • Don’t pull people on saucers, tubes, tires, sleds or skis behind a snowmobile. If you must tow someone, the safest way is to use a sled or cutter attached to the snowmobile by a rigid bar connection. Travel at a slow speed over level terrain away from trees, rocks and other vehicles. A spotter should always watch when someone is being towed.
  • Beginners should stick to groomed trails and drive during the day.
  • Always travel at safe speeds. Many trails have posted speed limits.
  • Be extra careful on unfamiliar or rugged terrain where you might run into hazards you can’t see, such as barbed wire.
  • Always keep headlights and tail lights on so that you can see, and so that others can see you.
  • Travel in groups of 2 or more, and only on marked trails away from roads, waterways, railroads and pedestrian traffic.
  • Never drink alcohol or use non-prescription drugs before or while operating a snowmobile.

Are there laws in Canada about operating snowmobiles?

  • Every province and territory has its own rules about the use of snowmobiles. It’s best to check with your provincial/territorial transportation authority for specifics.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Injury Prevention Committee

Last Updated: January 2013