K. Dean Gubler, DO, MPH, FACS
The recreational and work-related use of snowmobiles has become increasingly popular in the northern climates of North America and Europe. As snowmobile use has increased so has snowmobile-related injury and death. Although the application of snowmobile use may vary and result in a wide variety of injuries, head and neck injury followed by drowning most commonly account for snowmobile-related fatalities.1-7 Soft tissue, nerve, and skeletal trauma are the most prevalent injuries associated with non-fatal snowmobile related trauma.5,6-8 Snowmobile-related injury is preventable.
Although the demographics of snowmobile-related trauma are less well studied and are not generally known they seem familiar. Males are killed or injured three times more frequently than females. The association of alcohol use and snowmobile-related injury has been clearly documented.3,4,7,10-11 Most deaths are from head injury and occur as a result of the operators striking fixed objects such as wires and trees. Others are killed or injured falling off snowmobiles or by being run over. Other injuries result from loading or unloading, burns, and falling through thin ice resulting in drowning, frostbite, or hypothermia. Children are not immune and are frequently injured when being towed when their sled or other object overturn or when they are struck by the object or another vehicle.
Interventional studies demonstrating the effectiveness of injury prevention strategies for snowmobile-related injury and death are lacking. However, recommendation of the committee on injury and poison prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics when modified to be generally applied suggest that snowmobile-related injury could be avoided.6
- Recreational operation of snowmobiles is inappropriate for children and adolescents.
- Snowmobilers should travel at safe speeds, especially on unfamiliar or rugged terrain where hazards, such as difficult-to-see barbed wire, may be encountered.
- Snowmobilers should avoid the use of alcohol or other drugs before or during the operation of a snowmobile.
- Snowmobilers should wear well-insulated protective clothing, including goggles, and waterproof snowmobile suits, gloves, and rubber-bottomed boots. All drivers and passengers should wear approved helmets.
- Operators should carry a first aid kit, a survival kit that includes flares, and a cellular phone.
- Snowmobilers should travel in groups of two or more and only on designated, marked trails away from roads, waterways, railroads, and pedestrian traffic.
- Weather forecast should be checked before snowmobiling. Operators should know the signs of hypothermia, and regularly check for frostbite.
- Snowmobilers should avoid snowmobiling on ice.
- Snowmobilers should not carry more than one passenger.
- Headlights and taillights should be on at all times to improve the visibility of the snowmobile to other vehicle operators.
- Use of a saucer, tube, tire, sled, or skis to pull someone behind a snowmobile is not recommended.
- Snowmobiles must be well-maintained.
The popularity of of snowmobiles for outdoor recreation has increased. Injury and death associated with snowmobile use is preventable.
* Modified from the recommendations of the committee on injury and poison prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics "Snowmobiling Hazards", Pediatrics. 2000;106:1142-1144.
- Injuries associated with use of snowmobiles: Maine, 1991-1996. MMWR. 1997;46:1-4.
- Eriksson A, Bjornstag U. Fatal snowmobile accidents in northern Sweden. J Trauma. 1982;22:977-982.
- Gabert T, Stueland DT. Recreational injuries and deaths in northern Wisconsin: analysis of injuries and fatalities from snowmobiles over 3 years. Wis Med J. 1993;92:671-675.
- Landen MG, Middaugh J. Dannenberg AL. Injuries associated with snowmobiles, Alaska, 1993-1994. Public Health Reports. 1999;114(1):48-52.
- Hamdy CR, Dhir A, Cameron B, Jones H, Fitzgerald GWN. Snowmobile injuries in northern Newfoundland and Labrador: an 18 year review. J Trauma. 1988;28:1232-1237.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Accident and Poison Prevention. Snowmobiling Hazards. Pediatrics. 2000;106:1142-1144.
- Rice MR, Alvanoes L, Kenney B. Snowmobile injuries and deaths in children: a review of national injury data and state legislation. Pediatrics. 2000;105:615-619.
- Brawn BL, Meyers B, Dulebohn SC, Eyer SD. Severe brachial plexus injury as a result of snowmobiling: a case series. J Trauma. 1998;44:726-730.
- Farley DR, Orchard TF, Bannon Mp, Zietlow SP. The care and cost of snowmobile-related injuries. Minn Med. 1996;79:21-25.
- James EC, Lenz JO, Swenson WM, Cooley AM, Gomez YL, Antonenko DR. Snowmobile trauma: an eleven-year experience. Am Surg. 1991; 57:349-353.
- Rowe B, Milner R, Johnson C, Bota G. The association of alcohol and night driving with fatal snowmobile trauma: a case-control study. Ann Emerg Med. 1994;24:842-848.