Although the warm-weather season in Wisconsin can be short, Wisconsin residents love to make the most of it. We enjoy our numerous lakes, forests and scenic roadways on personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. These recreational vehicles bring people closer to the great outdoors with the added thrill of adventure. Even in the wintertime, the cold weather doesn’t keep residents indoors, with snowmobiles providing the same benefits.
Unfortunately, the same factors that make personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and snowmobiles exciting can also make them dangerous. Drivers are not enclosed and protected as they would be in a car or boat.
Drinking and Driving
Some drivers in pursuit of fun and relaxation make the mistake of having a beer or a drink while operating one of these vehicles. Alcohol and driving are a dangerous combination. In recognition of this, the Wisconsin legislature recently lowered the blood alcohol limit for operating snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles to .08. A driver under the age of 19 may not have any detectable blood alcohol.
Motorcyclists face dangers including lack of seatbelts and airbags. Because cars and trucks are considerably larger and heavier than motorcycles, cycle riders who are in accidents with cars and trucks typically suffer very serious injuries.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 756 people killed in traffic accidents in 2007 in Wisconsin, 109 were motorcyclists. In 2004, 10 percent of the traffic fatalities in Wisconsin were motorcyclists; by 2007, that figure climbed to 14 percent. The fatality or injury rate for motorcyclists in accidents is four times that of automobile drivers.
Several factors cause accidents for motorcyclists:
- Not being seen by other cars
- Lack of antilock brakes
- Not wearing helmets
Some of these dangers are easily remedied: wear a helmet, wear bright or reflective clothing when driving, and don’t drink and drive. Also, auxiliary headlights and brake lights can be purchased and added to motorcycles. Antilock brakes, however, are not easily added; but they are something to keep in mind when shopping for a new motorcycle.
All-terrain vehicles, commonly referred to as “ATVs,” are designed to be ridden off road, over a variety of rough terrains including sand, mud and open fields. They are motorized and have three or four wheels with soft balloon tires. The driver is an active participant in controlling all-terrain vehicles. A driver must use his or her body to control the ATV. Typically, all-terrain vehicles are used for recreation, but they are also used on farms and golf courses.
Many accidents on all-terrain vehicles result from the ATV flipping either forward or backward or rolling over on its side, or a combination of these actions.
During the snowmobile season of 2008-2009, 23 people were killed in snowmobile accidents. Some of these accidents were attributed to speed; some involved alcohol or marijuana; and some involved failing to yield the right of way or keep to the right of the trail.
The safety recommendations for ATV and snowmobile drivers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources include:
- Don’t consume alcohol or take drugs
- Use a full-size helmet and goggles
- Wear sensible protective clothing
- Be familiar with the vehicle and with the terrain
- Don’t override the headlights at night
- Don’t cut to the inside of turns
In addition, ATV and snowmobile drivers should never drive too fast on trails or cross the center line, especially when going over hills. Many accidents are caused by drivers who are speeding on trails.
ATV drivers are also encouraged to only have one rider. Snowmobile drivers are urged not to wear long scarves.
Personal watercrafts are designed to have the driver sit on top of them. They can accelerate quickly, but they are also very noisy. In fact, rental of personal watercraft on Lake Michigan has been controversial because of the noise and the danger to others who share the water.
Personal watercrafts are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents and collisions. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2006 personal watercraft were involved in 24 percent of boat accidents, although they represented less than 10 percent of the boats.
Some causes of accidents are driver inattention or inexperience, driving too fast for the conditions, and drinking or using drugs. In addition, some personal watercrafts cannot be steered or stopped if the driver lets off the throttle.
Steps that personal watercraft drivers can take to ensure safety include:
- Don’t consume alcohol or take drugs
- Be familiar with the personal watercraft and the body of water
- Be familiar with the right-of-way on water
Your Rights and Responsibilities
While recreational vehicles and motorcycles can offer a thrilling ride, their drivers must observe reasonable safety guidelines. If you have been hurt in a recreational vehicle or motorcycle accident, seek medical attention and speak with an attorney about holding the at-fault party responsible.