By Jenn Watt
Published Jan. 28, 2019
We watched the news last week as rescue workers spent days searching for the bodies of six snowmobilers who went through the ice in Quebec’s Lac-Saint-Jean region. The group was made up of French tourists unfamiliar with the area led by a guide. It hasn’t been determined what triggered their decision to leave the marked trail they were travelling on.
The accident happened the day before the Ontario Provincial Police put out a 10-year trend analysis of fatalities in snowmobiling as part of their annual safety week.
As Sgt. Paul Potter put it, the results are grim. Over the last decade, 175 people died in Ontario as a result of participating in the sport of snowmobiling. In almost half of fatalities, alcohol or drugs was a factor; in almost half of fatalities the accident occurred on a frozen lake or river.
Speed was the leading factor in deaths.
It’s important to note that 175 is the fatality figure; the OPP did not release numbers for snowmobile accidents, but one could safely assume that speed and alcohol consumption would also lead to non-fatal collisions.
Snowmobiling is popular in Ontario and in Haliburton. More than 100,000 trail permits were issued last year in the province and a study done in 2019 found that District 6, the area covering Haliburton to Pembroke, was the most visited region in Ontario by snowmobilers in the 2018-2019 season.
It’s common to see snowmobiles filling the parking lots around the Haliburton Highlands as sledders stop for gas and a bite to eat on their tour through the winter wonderland of Central Ontario.
And since there’s more traffic, it follows that accidents would happen more frequently. Police have found that 32 per cent of fatalities in their analysis happened in Central Region, a large area that includes Haliburton County.
What can be done to promote safety? John Enright of the Haliburton County Snowmobile Association says the first thing to do is stay on the 370 kilometres of trails and 70 kilometres of water crossings that volunteers work so hard to mark and sign - and follow the 50 km/hr speed limit, which was set for a reason.
Plan ahead, as Haliburton fire chief Mike Iles suggests: know the surroundings, know the snowmobile and its capabilities and know the lakes you’re travelling on.
And it should go without saying, but perhaps the fatality statistics make it more plain: don’t drink and drive.