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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Public Health Interventions and Snowmobile Fatality Rates

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Snowmobile fatalities are tragic events. Advocating speed limits, particularly at night (when riding in darkness) and not drinking alcohol are policies that have been attempted. Snowmobile accidents continue to occur. The American College of Emergency Physicians held a Research Forum in association with its Annual Scientific Meeting in Denver, Colorado in October, 2012. One of the presentations was entitled “Snowmobile Fatality Rates Have Not Decreased Despite Public Health Interventions.” NT Hibbs designed a study to determine whether trends in snowmobile fatalities have changed over time following implementation of public awareness programs, and if so, to determine which policies have been most effective.

The conclusions were made after reviewing fatality reports gathered from the Departments of Natural Resources in New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota from 1998 to 2011. In addition, Michigan police reports and other data were reviewed. 939 fatalities were identified that occurred during the study period. From 1998 to 2011, the overall fatality rate per 100,000 snowmobile registrations did not significantly change. Wisconsin had a decrease, but New York and Minnesota did not. The use of alcohol did not change. There appears to be a bit of a downward trend for fatalities related to driving in darkness. Fatality rates per the number of crashes are increasing in Michigan and Minnesota.

What to make of this? Clearly, the message is not getting across. Would speed limits, law enforcement, and penalties improve compliance? These data are revealing and indicative of how difficult it is to effect behavioral change. Doing anything dangerous under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a recipe fraught with disaster.

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Tags: On the Road , General Interest

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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