Alcohol and Snowmobiling, a Deadly Combination

This archived article is from January 2002. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

In the 12 years between 1987 and 1998, snowmobile crashes killed 1,046 people in Canada. A study of these fatalities found that vehicle operators accounted for over 80 per cent of the deaths. (Drivers represent just under half of highway traffic fatalities.)

The data reveal a distinct high-risk profile: a male in his mid 20s or 30s who operates a snowmobile after drinking on weekend nights.

  • Fatally injured operators aged 26 to 35 were about seven times more likely to have alcohol present in the blood than those over 55.
  • Fatal crashes occurring at night were 6.7 times more likely than daytime crashes to involve a drinking operator.
  • Weekend crashes (Friday night through Sunday) were almost twice as likely to involve alcohol than those during the week.
  • About 70 per cent of fatally injured operators had alcohol in their blood (compared to 46 per cent of highway drivers). Over half of these had a very high BAC, over 150 mg/dl.

A recent Ontario study which examines sports/recreational injuries in 1999-2000 highlights the severity of the problem. Almost half of hospitalizations involved motor vehicles. Of these, the highest proportion (one-third) were snowmobiles. Snowmobiling injuries were more severe and resulted in longer hospital stays than other recreational injuries. Alcohol was found in 65 per cent of those hospitalized for major snowmobiling injuries.

These data clearly show that the impaired driving problem does not stop where the road ends. Under the Criminal Code of Canada it is a criminal offense to operate a motorized snow vehicle while impaired or with a BAC over 80 mg/dl. The same sanctions apply as for impaired driving on our highways.

The difficulty of enforcing the law off-road is a major obstacle. Countermeasures which have proven successful against impaired driving need to be explored. New approaches may be needed to prevent and catch offenders.

Another challenge is the practice of combining alcohol consumption with recreational snowmobiling. Thanks to public education, drinking and driving has become more and more socially unacceptable. The same attitude change must be achieved among snowmobilers.