In many parts of the county where winter weather brings fresh blankets of snow, large numbers of people set out to enjoy the outdoors on snowmobiles. Operating a powerful machine at high speeds has inherent dangers—throw alcohol into the mix and you’re creating a recipe for disaster.
If you get behind the wheel of any vehicle—motorized or battery operated—while drunk, you’re risking serious legal consequences. You’re also putting your life, and the lives of others, at great risk. Charges of driving under the influence are not limited to your standard car or truck.
Snowmobiling While Intoxicated (SWI)
A recent story out of Chisago County, Minnesota spotlights the tragic consequences of operating a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol. Eight-year-old Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. and his father were setting up their ice house as they prepared to fish on Chisago Lake when an intoxicated snowmobile driver crashed into them. Alan’s father sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but Alan died a few days after the crash. The driver had a history of drunk driving with a high BAC and multiple license revocations.
Zero Alcohol: A Smart Choice
This case is far from unusual. For example, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes that “Alcohol is a factor in over 70% of all fatal [snowmobile] accidents” in the state.
Over the past decade, most states have expanded the 0.08 BAC limit for drunk driving to include recreational vehicles like boats and snowmobiles. Snowmobiling while intoxicated (SWI) can lead to misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony charges. Moreover, an SWI can have consequences on the operator’s automobile driving record—a drunk snowmobiling conviction can lead to a suspended license, repeat drunk driver status, or the requirement to use an ignition interlock on their car.
Jurisdictions are investing considerable resources to educate snowmobilers about the dangers of impaired riding. A coalition of states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Minnesota, strongly encourages snowmobilers to remain 100% alcohol-free while out on the trail with the hopes of building safe habits that save lives and reduce injuries.
Bottom Line: Never Drink and Ride
The American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA) has its own “Zero Tolerance while Snowmobiling Campaign” and their stance is clear: “a 0.0 percent blood alcohol content is the only acceptable level while riding a snowmobile.”
The ACSA also recognizes that the sport of snowmobiling has an image problem. Many in the public believe most snowmobilers drink while riding. While the ASCA refutes this assumption, they do recognize this perception exists “due to a high majority of fatal accidents, as well as other accidents, involving the snowmobile operator’s use of alcohol.”
The Zero Tolerance program seeks to reverse this perception by relying on peer pressure to embolden snowmobilers to refuse riding with anyone who has consumed alcohol. It starts with a pledge—”Zero Tolerance I Say, ’til I’m Done for the Day”—meaning no riders will consume alcohol either before or while they operate a snowmobile. It’s a promise made to one’s self and others not to consume alcohol “until the snowmobile day is done.”
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