Ian Tracy uses a child-sized snowmachine to demonstrate proper operating techniques to a group of children during a snowmachine safety fair for youngsters at Soldotna Middle School Saturday morning.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Educators, parents and children got together for a good cause keeping kids safe during the sixth annual Kenai Peninsula Safe Kids Children's Snowmobile Safety Awareness Event held at Soldotna Middle School on Saturday.
Children and snowmachines are two things that don't always go hand in hand. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends youth be at least 16 years old to drive a snowmachine and at least age 6 to ride on one.
That's just not the reality of life in Alaska, however, where in some remote areas snowmachines are more a vehicle for utility than sport or play.
"This is an important course in the area where we live," coordinator Dena Cunningham said.
There are 33,576 registered snowmachines in Alaska and statistics show that snowmachine-related injuries and deaths of youth are high and occur as operators, passengers and bystanders.
"We can't ignore that kids are on snowmachines, so we want to do what we can to make sure they're safe," Cunningham said.
Research has shown that injuries are less likely to occur when a child is properly supervised by a responsible adult and when safety guidelines are followed.
"Snowmobiles are not toys. They are machines and with that comes lots of responsibility," coordinator Jane Fellman said.
However, Fellman said she was by no means advocating kids operating snowmachines.
"We're not here to promote snowmobile riding in children. We're here to address and inform adults and children about safety issues," Fellman said.
"We care about kids, and we want to reduce the incidence of death and injury to them. That's why this course is so important," she added.
The course educated adults and children by moving them through a series of five stations, the first of which focused heavily on adult responsibility.
"No one means for accidents to happen to their kids, but sometimes they do because parents just aren't completely informed," Fellman said.
Station two focused on "Being in the Know" and taught kids to know their abilities, their machines' abilities, their riding area and the weather conditions.
Children at station two also were taught the basics of trip planning, such as carrying tools and survival kits, carrying a cell phone and telling someone where they were going, who with and when they expect to be back.
Station three taught kids "The Rules of the Road" and focused on vehicles' operating guidelines, such as stopping and looking both ways at intersections and keeping a distance of 100 feet between machines when traveling.
Station four provided instruction on cold weather survival skills and emphasized dressing warm and wearing layers, as well as the signs of frostbite and hypothermia and what to do if either happens.
"I liked the clothing station best, because I learned a lot about keeping warm," said 7-year-old Reagen Schoessler of Soldotna, who accompanies her father on snowmachine trips.
Station five included an actual snowmachine, and children were walked through a prestart checklist, which utilized the acronym PSTB for pointing the snowmachine in a safe direction, steering system check, throttle check and break check. Children were advised to make certain all worked correctly and didn't stick or rub prior to riding.
After moving their way through the five stations, parents could have their children fitted for a helmet, purchased at a reduced cost.
"We're able to provide $100 helmets for $25. We've probably put out more than 1,000 helmets in the six years the program has been running. For some of the kids, this is their first helmet," Cunningham said.
"It's a good deal for the helmet," Becky Jones of Sterling said. She was there with three children.
"It's important that the kids learn about safety, though. That's why we came again this year. The kids do learn about safety, too. A few times they were raising their hands to answer questions before the instructor had even finished asking it," Jones added.
Elizabeth Scarlett of Soldotna attended with her three sons and said she found the course helpful.
"Everyone has common sense, but I think it serves as a good reminder for adults and kids during the riding season," Scarlett said.
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