Who can ride?
To ride a snowmobile, a person must be at least 15 years of age. The exception to this rule is a closed practice area, where even those under the age of 15 are permitted to practice safe snowmobiling. Areas such as the yard around one’s house, or a nearby field, are not considered closed practice areas.
When riding on official snowmobile routes, crossing a road or, in certain legally permitted exceptional circumstances, riding on roads, the snowmobile rider must have at least a T class driving licence. Snowmobile riding on roads is generally not permitted except for crossing a road or bridge.
Snowmobile riders must thoroughly learn how to operate a snowmobile safely and appropriately. They must also be informed of the traffic rules applicable to snowmobiling.
Where can you ride?
Riding a snowmobile on off-road terrain is always subject to permission from the land-owner. Riding on snowmobile tracks managed by the Finnish forest administration authority Metsähallitus requires a snowmobile track permit issued by Metsähallitus. No special permit is required for riding on official snowmobile routes and iced-over waterways. The permit requirements for unofficial snowmobile routes vary by area.
Right-sided traffic is observed on snowmobile routes.
The authorities aim to build snowmobile routes in areas where snowmobile riding is commonplace. This helps minimise the negative impacts on nature.
It is recommended that people riding snowmobiles on iced-over waterways include ice awls in their safety equipment. The most important rule to remember is to avoid riding snowmobiles on iced-over waterways whenever you are not certain of the load bearing capacity of the ice. An appropriate snowmobile riding suit with reflector tags also improves safety. As the majority of the injuries suffered in snowmobile accidents involve the lower limbs, wearing protective snowmobiling boots helps to reduce injuries. Appropriate riding gloves also make it easier to operate the snowmobile’s controls.
The key legal provisions concerning snowmobile riding are included in the Road Traffic Act, the Cross-country Traffic Act and the Decree on Cross-Country Traffic. The Decree on the Use of Vehicles on the Road and the Decree on Vehicle Construction and Equipment also apply to snowmobiling.
A snowmobile rider’s most important safety device is the crash helmet, which is mandatory for both the driver and the passenger. The driver is also legally responsible for a passenger under the age of 15 wearing a crash helmet. Helmet use is also mandatory for passengers travelling in an open sleigh pulled by a snowmobile.
Snowmobiles must be registered. The technical part of the registration document must be carried during riding and produced for the traffic authorities upon request.
- Snowmobiling is subject to speed limits:
- The highest permitted speed on off-road terrain is 60 km/h.
- When riding on a road under exceptional circumstances, the maximum speed is 40 km/h.
- On iced-over waterways the speed limit is 80 km/h, but 60 km/h on snowmobile tracks.
- If the snowmobile is pulling a sleigh with passengers, the maximum permitted speed is 40 km/h.
The regulations on driving while inebriated also apply to snowmobile riding, even on off-road terrain:
- The legal limit for blood alcohol content is 0.05%.
- The limit for aggravated driving while intoxicated is 0.12%.
- The legal repercussions of driving while intoxicated are the same as for other traffic.
A snowmobile is a vehicle that is subject to a specific set of traffic rules. Knowing these rules and complying with them is the basic precondition for safe snowmobile riding.
Ultimately, snowmobiling is about moving around in nature and survival in nature. In nature, a snowmobile rider may end up providing assistance as well as receiving assistance. Using appropriate equipment, having the required navigation skills, following good etiquette and taking nature into consideration are at least as important as having the ability to control the vehicle. Understanding these aspects is a precondition for a safe and enjoyable snowmobile ride.
Liikenneturva has put together guidelines for good snowmobiling etiquette based on tips provided by experienced snowmobile riders:
- Know your snowmobile and check your equipment. Be prepared for changes in weather and terrain conditions. If you are under the influence of alcohol, postpone your ride until the next day.
- Observe your environment and make your intentions clear. Be prepared to help others. Make sure that those who require assistance receive it. When providing assistance yourself, avoid putting yourself in a position where you may also require assistance. You can maximise your own satisfaction by following the rules of good conduct. Work on your skills related to safety and survival in nature.
- Use snowmobiling routes and tracks. When riding on land owned by others, obtain permission first. Stay in the group and look after those riding behind you. Know the map and make sure you have basic navigation skills. Inform others of your estimated return time, route and stops. Let others know how they can contact you.
- Adjust your riding to the terrain and the snow cover. Do not allow yourself to be surprised by the terrain, even when riding in an unfamiliar environment. Reduce your speed when necessary to give yourself time to react and manoeuver in surprising situations. Snowmobiles are not intended for crossing waterways. Despite this, drowning is the most common cause of death in snowmobile accidents! Drinking alcohol and snowmobiling do not mix.
- Ride on nature’s terms. Clean up after yourself and avoid unnecessary noise. Respect animals and the peace and quiet of nature. Avoid damage to plant life.
- Practise riding in a safe environment. Develop your snowmobiling skills. If you ride regularly, join a club and participate in training.
Snowmobile safaris are a popular pastime. Group snowmobiling is different from riding alone. It is essential that all participants are aware of the rules agreed on by the group in advance, and comply with them.
A group needs a leader
When riding snowmobiles in a group, make sure to select a group leader. The group leader is responsible for ensuring that everyone knows the rules of the group and communicating clear instructions to the members of the group, even before the start of the ride. The group leader is also in charge of route planning and determining what equipment will be brought along.
Plan a route that is not excessively challenging but is still interesting, even for more experienced riders. Safety is the most important aspect of route planning. Allocate sufficient time for breaks in scheduling the ride. Select the locations for breaks in such a way that the group can be managed by the guide and no member of the group gets lost.
When riding in a column, maintain safe distances between the vehicles.
Snowmobile riders must have sufficient practice in controlling the snowmobile before the start of the ride. The group leader must ensure that participants wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather conditions and use proper snowmobiling equipment.
Agreeing on hand signals ahead of time makes group snowmobiling safer and more enjoyable.
Typical snowmobile accidents
There are around 140,000 snowmobiles in Finland, and they are primarily used in the northern part of the country. The driving environment for a snowmobile is very different from that of other vehicles.Snowmobile users are a diverse group. It includes professionals as well as people who ride infrequently, or are riding for the first time. In recent times, there have been 5-8 fatalities from snowmobile accidents per year.
The majority of the fatal accidents and snowmobile-related injuries occur on ice during weekends. Over half of the fatalities from snowmobile accidents are under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Drowning is the most common cause of death in snowmobile accidents on iced-over waterways.
Snowmobile accidents are characterised by high speeds and either the lack of a crash helmet or the incorrect use of one.
Less severe accidents involving inexperienced riders have also been observed to be related to the incorrect use of the snowmobile’s controls. For example, when cornering, the rider may accidentally twist the throttle grip, resulting in quick acceleration, loss of control and the snowmobile veering off course.