A Rimbey-area man was killed when the snowmobile he was operating struck a stand of trees in an area northwest of the community on the evening of Jan. 30.
“The Rimbey RCMP received a call at approximately 8:30 p.m. indicating that there had been a collision involving a snow machine in a field north of Rimbey west of the airport,” said Sgt. Mark Groves. “An adult male 33-year of age and a resident of the Rimbey area had been on his snow machine and had struck some trees and suffered substantial injuries. Upon arrival of police and emergency medical personnel, the victim was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
Groves said through interviews with others prior to the collision, police have determined that alcohol was a factor and added that the victim was not wearing a helmet vat the time of the collision.
“The RCMP investigated the matter in consultation with the Medical Examiner’s office and alcohol is believed to have been a factor in the incident,” he said.
Groves said the RCMP would not speculate as to whether speed and unfamiliarity with the terrain were also factors in the collision but urged snowmobile enthusiasts to always make safety their top priority.
“The RCMP strongly encourages anyone of any age to wear a certified helmet properly done up whenever operating a snowmobile or any other motorized recreational vehicle and to be extremely cautious when operating these machines, especially in the dark,” he said.
Groves reminded operators to be prepared when travelling by snowmobile including bringing along a repair kit, survival kit including a flashlight, water, snack bar and a lighter as well as ensuring that others are aware of the operator’s route as well as departure and expected arrival times.
Additionally, police also urge snowmobilers to dress appropriately for winter conditions and to avoid travelling on unstable or unconfirmed ice.
The collision will surely re-ignite the efforts of the Alberta Snowmobile Association to urge the provincial government to impose mandatory helmet laws for both operators and passengers on snowmobiles.
“I find it very odd that Alberta has no legislation making helmet use mandatory on snowmobiles. There are only three provinces in Canada that do not,” said Darryl Copithorne of Cochrane, president of the Alberta Snowmobile Association (ASA). “I always understood that Alberta was supposed to be one of the more progressive, forward-thinking provinces and this definitely does not fit in with that mentality. Safety and kids are two crucial things that we at the ASA just beat on constantly. Operating a snowmobile in a safe fashion and using whatever is available to you to do so are issues we constantly promote.”
Despite urging the provincial government to implement helmet laws pertaining to snowmobiles constantly and consistently over the past 13 years, Copithorne said the government doesn’t seem to be the least bit interested.
“Really, we’ve has very little response. They just had their cabinet shuffle and everyone seems to be trying to find their way at the table and for some reason, safety issues like this doesn’t seem to be on the radar right now. It’s very puzzling,” he said.
“It’s a lack of political will. Some of the responses we got from various people were that industry is opposed to legislation, which is strange when considering that industry is covered under the Worker’s Compensation Board, which requires the wearing of helmets,” Copithorne added. “The government says it’s complicated, but it’s not. It’s very easy. The ASA has offered them draft legislation they can use as an example. There are other jurisdictions that have helmet laws in place that they can get access that legislation and have a look at it and utilize it as they wish, as long as they have the political will.”
One of the programs offered by the ASA is the SledSmart program that sees trained instructors visiting schools throughout the province teaching young people how to safely operate snowmobiles, ATV and other motorized recreational vehicles. Since the beginning of 2010, Copithorne estimates approximately 6,000 students have already been out through the course and estimated by the time the end of snowmobile season arrives, that number will swell to 10,000.
Despite those efforts however, injuries and fatalities related to snowmobiles remain a common occurrence throughout the winter months.
“It’s very unfortunate. Every time we hear about injuries or fatalities I kind of hang my head and am very sad for that because to implement a helmet law to alleviate these issues is very easy,” Copithorne said. “People talk about common sense in relation to parents and their kids, but common sense isn’t so common so it’s one of these things where people say we don’t want any more legislation but in this case I kind of relate it to child safety seats or seatbelts. If people aren’t smart enough to do it themselves, you have to legislate it.”
Currently, of the ten Canadian provinces, only British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland currently have no mandatory helmet law in place.
That debate recently came to the forefront when on Jan. 11, a five-year-old girl died at the scene of another collision with a stand of trees in the Sherwood Park area that also resulted in serious injuries to her father, who was operating the machine.
The Strathcona County RCMP said neither the father nor the daughter were wearing helmets at the time of the collision.
According to statistics supplied by the Alberta Collision Information System and the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, over the 10-year period from 1997 to 2006, there were 345 collisions involving 378 motorized snow vehicles excluding those that occurred on privately owned land.
Of the recorded collision on public land, 60 per cent resulted in death or an injury including 11 fatalities and 237 injuries during the ten-year period and there have been a total of 28 deaths attributed to snowmobiles in Alberta in the last eight years.
Further, eight of the 12 operators of snow machines involved in the 11 fatalities had consumed alcohol prior to the collisions.
During the same time 10-year period, 76.3 per cent of snow machines involved in collision were between the ages of 15 and 44 while 15 of the 227 operators involved in collisions were between the ages of 10 and 14 with 37 more aged between 15 and 19 years.
Also, approximately 40 per cent of those who sustained an injury and/or fatality as a result of a collision were not wearing a protective helmet in cases where helmet usage was specified in data gathered at the collision scenes.
The name of the Rimbey victim has not been released at this time.