Ontario’s snowmobile trail system is the largest in the world with over 40,000km of trails. Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) work together to encourage snowmobilers to ride with a Snowmobile Trail Permit on OFSC-prescribed trails that are maintained and marked for improved safety.
Head injuries remain the leading cause of mortality and serious morbidity from collisions or overturning involving snowmobiles. Children’s lack of strength and skill required to operate a snowmobile can make it challenging to do so safely.
Snowmobile Injuries in Canada
In Canada, there are more than 660,000 registered snowmobiles that cover over 1.65 billion kilometres of trails during the snowmobiling season. (118) The majority of snowmobile injuries take place on private property and those under 20 years are the most likely to sustain serious injury (orthopaedic injury and head injury). Most injuries (34%) occur in February and alcohol was reported to be a factor in 49% of admissions for severe trauma cases in 2003–2004. Ninety-one percent of those injured were driving. Those 15–19 years comprised 19% of those treated in Ontario emergency departments followed by 13% aged 35–39 years.
Snowmobile Injuries in Ontario
On average, each week, over 40 people visit an emergency department for injuries from snowmobiling in Ontario. In 2005/06, there were 2,096 Emergency Department (ED) visits and 268 hospitalizations for snowmobiling-related injuries and 5% were admitted as inpatients to critical care/operating rooms. Northern Ontario experienced the highest rate of ED and hospitalizations. Males represented the vast majority of these cases (75% ED visits and 84% of hospitalizations):
- Males aged 15–19 years represented the highest number and rate of ED visits
- Males aged 30–34 years had the highest number and rates of hospitalizations (120)
Snowmobile Legislation in Ontario – Motorized Snow Vehicles Act
This legislation is the responsibility of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and is enforced by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), municipal police and Snowmobile Trail Officer Patrol STOP -volunteers who are sworn special constables by the OPP. Drivers must be at least 12 years and possess a valid Motorized Snow Vehicle Operator’s Licence (MSVOL) to operate a snowmobile on a trail. Drivers must be at least 16 years and possess a valid driver’s licence or MSVOL to drive along or cross a highway (that includes a municipal road).
- The speed limit on trails is generally 50km/h.
- Municipalities may set lower speed limits for highways and roads under its jurisdiction by means of a bylaw.
- Municipalities may set higher speed limits for trails under its jurisdiction by means of a bylaw.
- Snowmobiles operating on a prescribed trail must display a valid trail permit.
- Lights are required at night, during inclement weather or insufficient light conditions.
- Helmets are required for drivers and passengers unless the snowmobile is operated on the vehicle owner’s property.
- Snowmobiles must be registered and insured unless being operated on the vehicle owner’s property.
- To successfully obtain an MSVOL, individuals must complete a driver training course consisting of six hours of instruction and receive at least 80% on a final written test.