Drunk snowmobiling deadly

  • A large percentage of deaths involving snowmobiles are being cited as alcohol related
  • Wisconsins current laws do not appear to be enough to deter people from driving under the influence
  • Wisconsin snowmobiling organizations are working together to mandate a new law that will have heavier restrictions on snowmobiling drunk

Of the 23 snowmobiling fatalities in Wisconsin last year, 16 of the victims had one thing in common — their blood alcohol content was above point zero.

One victim was cited as going across a lake at a very high rate of speed with a passenger when the snowmobile hit the shoreline, went airborne and struck a dock that had been pulled onto shore. Both the operator and passenger were killed instantly. The operator was wearing a helmet, but the passenger was not.

The BAC of the driver was .147 percent and the BAC of the passenger was .231 percent, nearly double and triple the limit of .08 percent. Both victims also tested positive for marijuana.

According to the Department of Natural Resources snowmobile regulations, it is illegal to operate a snowmobile if one's BAC is more than .08 percent.

Gary Eddy, the state department of natural resources snowmobile/ATV administrator explained the repercussions of getting caught while driving under the influence.

"It is a fine of $627," Eddy said. "You pay the fine and you are done."

The problem with this law is a registered snowmobile user can receive as many alcohol citations as they want as long as they pay them. Eddy explained that the DNR is currently working with the governor's Snowmobile Recreation Council to help stiffen the penalty.

"We are currently working with them in regards to the concept of tying in OWI violation and having that affect a person's driver's license," Eddy said. "Minnesota has driving offenses that have an effect that go on the driver's license, and the last two years they have had single digit. We are hopeful that if Wisconsin tied in a similar law that we could have a similar fatality range."

Wisconsin is not the only state in the Midwest having problems with alcohol-related snowmobile fatalities.

Lt. Andrew Turner, an administrator for the Michigan DNR, said despite their best regulating efforts, there are still numerous alcohol-related fatalities.

"It is a classic case of where we can't be everywhere all the time," Turner said.

When Turner addressed tighter law constraints on snowmobile users driving under the influence, he said they do receive a lot of opposition.

"The reality is the snowmobile groups are very powerful organizations that are very organized and they play a large role in Michigan law and legislation," he said.

Bill Schumann, president of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobiling Clubs, said the problem does not just fall on snowmobile users who decide to drink and drive.

"It is a big problem," Schumann said. "The problem with the state of Wisconsin is all you have to do is pick up a local paper to see there is one heck of a lot of people who don't have a driver's license yet they're still driving cars."

Schumann said people are misinterpreting the AWSC's cautiousness as them being opposed to a stricter law.

"We're looking for a fair bill that is going to really clean this up," he said. "We don't want a Band-Aid on it, we want the whole thing taken care of."