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Twenty-three snowmobiling deaths in Wisconsin are too many

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Greg Peck
March 26, 2014

“Speed kills,” suggest traffic officials. So does drunken driving. Mix the two, and it's toxic not just to motorists but to too many snowmobilers in Wisconsin.

I have nothing against snowmobiling. Decades ago I enjoyed riding around Firemen's Park in Marshall aboard a neighbor's snowmobile when I grew up in the Dane County village of Marshall. I doubt, however, that I'll ever own a machine. Unless I moved up north someday—a plan I can't envision—I wouldn't find owning one too practical.

Too many snowmobilers are their own worst enemies. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Ashley Luthern reports in a story printed in today's Gazette that 23 people have died in snowmobile crashes this season in Wisconsin. The season also isn't over. When I talked to Mom on Sunday and told her our yard was largely clear of snow and that flowers were emerging in the garden, she sounded disgusted and said they still had as much snow in Minocqua as they did when we visited and saw mounds everywhere a month ago.

Sure, that plentiful snow encouraged lots of snowmobilers this season. However, note that cold weather also froze waters solid, offering safer travel on lakes and rivers. Last season, unstable ice took a toll, when five snowmobilers drowned.

Luthern reports that nine of those who died this season had blood-alcohol levels between 0.13 and 0.27—all higher than the 0.08 level the state deems intoxicated. The state also considers alcohol a factor in six other fatalities.

Minocqua is in Oneida County, just south of Vilas County, a hotbed for snowmobiling and where snowmobiling advocates have worked hard to advocate safety in recent years. Thus, fatalities have fallen steadily. Advocates might want to consider what's working in Vilas County and spread it to more places across the state. Even a single snowmobiling death is one too many. Twenty-three in a season tells me something is tragically wrong.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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