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Sen. Mary Lazich: Stay safe, snowmobilers
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Shortly after midnight on Jan. 2, a 25-year-old man died after being knocked from his snowmobile in the Kenosha County town of Paris.

The Kenosha County Sheriff's Department says the snowmobiler smelled of alcohol, was operating at high speed, and was riding alone in the dark. Thrown after hitting a guy wire that was holding down a pole, the rider's body was found about 55 yards from his idling snowmobile.

According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there were 26 fatalities during the 2006-07 snowmobile season. High speed was a factor in 19 of the 26 fatalities, alcohol a factor in 14 of the 26 fatalities. One rider actually died of decapitation.

As I travel through the rural portions of the Senate district I represent, I see more and more snowmobilers taking advantage of the more than 25,000 miles of groomed trails in Wisconsin.

I urge all riders to exercise caution this winter season that already has been witness to some deaths on the trails.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds snowmobilers that it is illegal to operate a snowmobile under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on any property that is held open to the public (trails, routes lakes/rivers or corridors).

Every year, injury accidents and fatal crashes are caused by riding a snowmobile and consuming alcoholic beverages.

The DNR offers these snowmobile safety tips:

• Never consume alcohol or drugs before or during snowmobile operation. Drinking alcohol before or during snowmobiling can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking often drive too fast. Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, which increases the likelihood of hypothermia.

• Slow down. Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should proceed at a pace that will allow ample reaction time for any situation. Drive at moderate speeds, and drive defensively, especially after sunset.

• Carry a first-aid kit, flashlight, knife, compass, map, and waterproof matches.

• Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness or water currents. Rapidly changing weather and moving water in streams and lake inlets also affect the thickness and strength of ice on lakes and ponds. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevents thick strong ice from forming.

• Dress appropriately. Always wear a helmet with goggles or a face shield to prevent injuries from twigs and flying debris. Wear layers of water-repellent clothing and make sure you have no loose ends that might catch in the machine or tangle in equipment.

• Stay on marked trails or, where allowed, on the right shoulder of the road. Be alert for fences, tree stumps and stretched wire that may be concealed by snow.

• Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in personal injury. The most dangerous situations occur when a person is injured and alone.

• A key reminder: The nighttime speed limit for snowmobiling is 55 mph and is in effect from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.

- Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, can be reached at