By: G. Sal Gani of THE GANI LAW FIRM
The snow has started to fall and the trails will again become our path to winter the wonderland in our great state of Michigan. Enjoying the sport means doing so safely and legally. Getting hurt, hurting others, or being cited for violation of snowmobiling laws is everything you want to avoid. My opinion still stands about trees-they are stubborn and don’t move for you.
For those of us who enjoy the sport year after year you all know the basic rules, including proper registration and purchase of your annual trail permit. Be careful of those who might try to sell you a discounted trail permit on the internet. I have heard there are still people making fake permits and selling them cheap. You get what you pay for. Trust me, the fine is nothing you ever want to know. Don’t forget that ignorance of the law is never a defense to a citation. Please allow me to share with you some of the frequently asked questions I am asked in the winter months.
1) Q: If a person offers to sell me his trail permit for a even a 20% discount should an I buy it?
A: Not a chance. Remember they are specific to your machine. You might fall victim to a scam.
2) Q: Can I ride anywhere without valid registration or trail permit?
A: Snowmobiles are exempt from certain requirements if operated exclusively on lands owned or under control of the owner so long as you are riding your private property, or private property with consent; while safety educational programs are being conducted by a certified instructor; under special events prescheduled with a governmental agency. A snowmobile may be operated without a trail permit, but with valid registration, if the snowmobile is being used exclusively for transportation on the frozen surface of public waters for ice fishing. Be prepared to prove you are going to or from your special fishing hole. Please be safe and wear a flotation life vest if there is any chance you are less than 100% sure of ice thickness.
2) Q: Can I drive my snowmobile on the road?
A: (a) Snowmobiles may be operated on designated highways in a designated county which is not normally snow plowed for vehicle traffic;
(b) On the right-of-way or shoulder when no right of way exists on a snow plowed highway in designated counties;
(c) Outside city or village limits which is designated and marked for snowmobile use by the county road commission.
(d) On the roadway or shoulder when necessary to cross a bridge or culvert if the snowmobile is brought to a complete stop before entering the roadway, you yield to any approaching motor vehicle; you stay in single file and attempt to cross at a right angle to the roadway. I was with a friend three years ago who was stopped for riding against traffic when there were no cars on the road.
3) Q: Can I operate my snowmobile if I drink alcohol?
A: Common sense should not be ditched. As with any other motor vehicle, it is illegal to operate a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You might be banned from operating a snowmobile and still preserve your right to operate a car. There are many exceptions so get a wise legal opinion if you find yourself in trouble.
3) Q: Are there speed limits on the trails?
A: The general rule is a person may not exceed a rate of speed greater than is reasonable for existing conditions. Pay attention to the roadway limits.
4) Q: What other operation could be considered illegal?
A: (a) In a forest nursery or public property when growing stock may be damaged. Be smart and stay on the trails because trails often cut through areas where seedlings have been planted. Hint- if the area looks like it has been clean cut in the past few years stay on the trails or risk a ticket;
(b) You cannot drive within 100 feet of a dwelling between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am at a speed greater than the minimum required to maintain forward movement. Yes, leaving the local watering hole like a bat of He_ _ is illegal and really inconsiderate;
(c) On the land of another without owners consent as required by the “Recreational Trespass Act”. It is your responsibility to be aware of property lines beyond state lands;
(d) In an area open to public hunting from November 15-30 during the firearm hunting season from 7:00 am to 11:00 am and from 2:00pm to 5:00 pm;
(e) Transporting a bow unless encased or unstrung, or a firearm unless unloaded and securely encased;
(f) On or across a burial ground or cemetery, airport property, public or private parking lot, railroad right of way, or within 100 feet of a sledding, skiing, or skating area.
5) Q: Is it true you must have the ability to lock the traction belt with the brake to be legal?
A: Yes, the law requires the following:
1. Braking ability to stop the snowmobile in no more than 40 feet traveling at 20mph while traveling on packed snow with an operator of 175 pounds or more.
2. Ability to lock the traction belt on demand.
6) Q: Am I required to report accidents to the police?
A: You must report any snowmobile accident to the county law enforcement where anyone is injured or where property damage is estimated at $100.00 or more, even if the accident involves only one snowmobile and no one was injured. One reason is so they probably want to verify if alcohol was a factor.
7) Q: My driver’s license is suspended- can I still operate my snowmobile?
A: NO, unless you want to risk being charged with Driving While License Suspended (DWLS), is the safe answer. You need to remember that a snowmobile is a vehicle if you are travelling on a public roadway or area open to the general public. You may win on a technicality but it is not worth the risk.
8) Q: What happens if I get caught operating while impaired by alcohol consumption or marijuana?
A: If you are convicted of operating while under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, you will have six points assessed against your driver’s license. Impaired due to consumption of alcohol or drugs will result in a four point assessment, pay hearing, fines, and whatever else the court orders.
9) Q: Do the fleeing and eluding laws apply to snowmobiles?
A: Absolutely! At best, it can be a misdemeanor. At worst a felony. Whether you attempt to knowingly flee on your snowmobile is a question of fact. A good example was at bud bash in Tip up Town last year. A few riders made it close to the beer tent, quickly jumped off their sleds, and attempted to hide from the officer and blend in with the dozens of nearby riders. No problem, they thought the officers could not identify their faces. The officers patiently watched from a ways back with binoculars. Once they people got back on their snowmobiles, it was sufficient to identify them by their suits.
These are just some of the many questions that come up each year. Ignorance of the law is no defense. Operate safely and legally. Give the same respect you would expect from any other rider on any property. Live to enjoy your next ride. The season is short. If you have any questions about your legal rights please contact attorney G. Sal Gani at (517) 372-8944 or visit our new web site at GaniLaw.com. Remember the five p’s: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. I handle matters throughout the State of Michigan. I try to ride almost every weekend in Roscommon-Crawford and Kalkaska county areas and look forward to the winter season this year.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters, and electronic mail. Reviewing this information or contacting us alone does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established. You should not rely upon any information as legal advice.
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