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Snowmachine regs now in effect could alleviate problems

-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - March 25

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

''We don't need to regulate 99 percent of the people because of the mistakes of the few,'' Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, said last week, dismissing statutory initiatives for improving snowmachine safety.

''I'm not convinced government is going to make that much difference,'' echoed Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, and chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Most Alaskans would philosophically agree with lawmakers who prefer to see snowmachiners regulate themselves. But those few snowmachiners operating in apparent reckless disregard for their own safety, and that of others, are rapidly exhausting our collective tolerance.

Rising abuse of the powerful machines -- reflected in needless accidents on bike paths, roadways, rivers, even the Iditarod Trail -- is reaching the point where it all but invites a lawful response. Must we, for the sake of the incorrigible few, impose new snowmachine speed and driver's-age limits, mandate safety training and, yes, penalties for those who flout society's standards?

... What is needed now is a dialogue, encouraging law-abiding snowmachiners to take the initiative and end their complacency regarding this increasing public-safety threat.

For purposes of discussion, here are a few of the regulatory approaches to improving snowmachine safety taken elsewhere:

n Idaho -- Snowmachiners must have a driver's license and operate with ''reasonable and prudent'' speed, with a speed limit of 45 mph on groomed trails.

n Montana -- Driver's license required; no youths (under 16) driving along public roads without certificate and adult's supervision; required safety training for youths operating snowmachines along public roadways; posted speed limits; ''careless or reckless'' behavior is illegal.

n Washington -- Driver's license or safety certificate for youths (12-16); no access for snowmachiners ages 12 and under along or across public roads; drivers 16 and under must have adult supervision; road-shoulder operation is illegal; road use only when road is closed to other traffic; ''reasonable and prudent'' speeds.

n Wisconsin -- Safety certification required (mandatory 6-hour program); drivers 16 and under require adult supervision; snowmachines only allowed on designated routes or unplowed roads; the ''reasonable and prudent'' speed limit now features a ''temporary'' nighttime restriction of 50 mph, which was instituted in the wake of the state's record 38 deaths last year.

n Yukon Territory -- Drivers must be licensed to operate on roadways; snowmachines generally have all the rights and duties -- with respect to speed, etc. -- of other vehicles; no residential street use between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Alaska has its own fairly extensive set of snowmachine regulations on the books.

Alaska snowmachine drivers must be licensed to operate on public property; snowmachines are banned from our sidewalks, bike paths and other controlled-access trails; night driving is allowed only on the right-hand side of the road, moving in the same direction of traffic in the closest lane. Our state's rules governing snowmachines provide graduated snowmachine speed limits of 15 mph in alleyways, 20 mph in business districts, 25 mph in residential areas and 55 mph along other roadways.

In addition, driving a snowmachine while intoxicated is a crime. Youths ages 14-21 who consume or possess booze while operating snowmachines can lose future driving privileges.

But any (Alaskan) has stories to share about snowmachiners operating in violation of those rules, which the state does virtually nothing to enforce.

Perhaps that's where public discussions about curbing reckless snowmachine operators ought to begin.



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