To investigate the demographic characteristics and circumstances surrounding fatal snowmobile accidents in Ontario, to examine the risk factors and to observe any fatality trends over the study period.
All 131 people who died accidentally while operating a snowmobile in Ontario from 1985-86 to 1989-90. Records were obtained from the chief coroner's office; registration data were obtained from the Ministry of Transportation.
Although the absolute number of deaths increased each year, owing to a rapid increase in the number of registered snowmobiles, the risk of death from snowmobile accidents remained relatively constant. Deaths occurred most frequently in northeastern Ontario. Youths and men predominated among the victims. Fatal accidents occurred more often on lakes (in 66% of the cases in which this information was known) than on roads (in 26%) or trails (in 8%). Weekend fatalities predominated, and deaths occurred most often during times of suboptimal lighting (from 4 pm to 8 am). The driver was killed in 84% of the cases in which the person's role was known. Alcohol use before death was implicated in 69% of the cases, the level exceeding the Ontario legal limit in 59%.
Snowmobile-related deaths result from factors that are generally avoidable. Strategies need to be instituted to reduce the rate of these events.