Snowmobiles 'lethal weapons', federation calls for stricter rules

After multiple fatal snowmobile crashes this year, the Newfoundland & Labrador Snowmobile Federation says it's time now to bring in stricter rules to make trails safer.

Four deadly accidents have made headlines since January. The most recent fatal was Monday night in River of Ponds, where RCMP say a 46-year-old man was killed.

Ben Fitzgerald, general manager of the snowmobile federation, says he doesn't have statistics comparing the number of deadly accidents to last year, but thinks something needs to be changed.

"It's like riding a motorcycle, you're on an unprotected vehicle. There's absolutely no room for forgiveness," he said.

The most serious snowmobile accidents are when people leave groomed trails for softer powder, without knowing what lies beneath the snow, Fitzgerald said.

"All accidents are avoidable, it's just a matter of having the foresight and being safety conscious. And the unfortunate part is, with these accidents … it can happen to anybody." 

'Legislation is really outdated'

Fitzgerald said there are 13,000 snowmobilers in the province, but the legislation around wearing a helmet isn't up to date and doesn't include all the kinds of machines on the trails.

"Our current legislation makes it legal to not wear a helmet as an operator, illegal to have no helmet on as a passenger. Just little things that basically show that our legislation is really outdated," he told CBC's Central Morning Show.

"We really need to modernize our legislation and basically with that also have to look at our trail system. Is it as safe as it could be?"

Fitzgerald added there are people who don't treat a snowmobile like what it is: a motorized vehicle.

"Do parents actually know, actually realize, what they're giving their child? … In all reality, we're talking lethal weapons here," he said.

"We have our children these days that have to wear a helmet to ride their bicycle, but in the meantime you don't have to wear a helmet to ride a machine that can go 100-something kilometres an hour."