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Injuries Associated With Use of Snowmobiles -- New Hampshire, 1989-1992

Recreational use of snowmobiles is popular in New Hampshire during the winter months; from 1982 to 1992, the annual number of registered snowmobiles ranged from approximately 21,200 to 42,500. During this period, 26 deaths associated with use of snowmobiles in New Hampshire accounted for 822 years of potential life lost before age 65 years. To assist in the development and evaluation of injury-prevention programs for users of off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRVs) (e.g., all-terrain vehicles, trail bikes, and snowmobiles), the State of New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services examined reports of injuries resulting from OHRV use in New Hampshire from January 1989 through February 1992 *. This report summarizes information about snowmobile-associated fatal and nonfatal injuries during this period.

Since 1981, New Hampshire has required reporting of OHRV incidents resulting in injury. A standard report form must be completed by a person involved in the event or by a law enforcement agent and filed with DFG within 5 days of the incident. Information collected on the form includes demographic characteristics of the operator, type of vehicle, environmental conditions, date and time of the incident, whether the operator reported having taken an OHRV safety course, type of injury, excessive speed, and use of alcohol and helmets.

During January 1989-February 1992, DFG received reports of 164 snowmobile incidents resulting in injury. Of the 164 incidents, 155 involved 188 vehicles and resulted in 163 nonfatal injuries, and nine involved 13 vehicles and resulted in 12 fatalities and two nonfatal injuries (Table_1). All fatal incidents were reported by law enforcement agents. Of the 155 reports of nonfatal incidents, 103 (66%) were completed by a law enforcement agent.

All operators involved in fatal (13) and most involved in nonfatal (161 {86%}) incidents were male. Seven (54%) operators involved in fatal incidents and 75 (40%) operators involved in nonfatal incidents were aged 20-29 years; no operators involved in fatal incidents and 40 (21%) involved in nonfatal incidents were aged less than 20 years. No operator involved in a fatal incident and 14 (7%) of those involved in a nonfatal incident were reported to have taken an OHRV safety course.

Of nine fatal events and 155 nonfatal events, seven (78%) and 64 (46%), respectively, occurred during darker periods (i.e., 4 p.m.-8 a.m., November-March). No fatal and 25 (16%) nonfatal events occurred during periods of precipitation or other inclement weather (i.e., fog or active snow, sleet, or rain). Operating on a frozen body of water was reported for five of nine fatal and 36 (23%) of 155 nonfatal events.

Overall, 67% of fatal incidents were associated with alcohol use and 67% with excessive speed. Of the 103 police-reported nonfatal incidents, 16 (16%) involved alcohol use, and 36 (35%) involved excessive speed; in comparison, of 52 incidents reported only by persons involved in the incident, one (2%) and three (6%), respectively, reported use of alcohol or excessive speed.

Of eight deaths resulting from incidents occurring on a frozen body of water, three resulted from hypothermia and five from either head and neck injuries (three) or multiple trauma (two). Three other deaths were attributed to head and neck trauma and one to multiple trauma.

Of 165 persons nonfatally injured, 104 (63%) were reported to have been wearing helmets. Helmets were reported to have been worn by 31 (57%) of 54 persons with nonfatal head injuries, compared with four of six persons with fatal head injuries.

Reported by: A Hewitt, State of New Hampshire Dept of Fish and Game; Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; D Solet, M Kiely, Office of Chronic Disease and Health Data, New Hampshire Dept of Health and Human Svcs. Div of Field Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In New Hampshire, most fatal snowmobile incidents involved male operators in their 20s, use of alcohol, or excessive speed; half of persons killed sustained head injuries. In addition, fatalities occurring as a result of operating on frozen bodies of water were associated with either severe trauma or events related to falling through the ice (i.e., hypothermia). These findings are consistent with previous studies of fatalities associated with the use of OHRVs (1,2). For example, contributing factors for nondrowning deaths following incidents on frozen water surfaces have included high speeds attained on such open surfaces and unexpected uneven terrain (e.g., ice ridges) (1). The findings in this report also indicate that some snowmobile drivers and passengers did not wear helmets. Although this investigation could not assess the effectiveness of helmet use, a previous study estimated that helmet use can reduce the risk for death among all-terrain vehicle operators by approximately 42% and can reduce the likelihood of head injury in a nonfatal incident by approximately 64% (3).

The findings in New Hampshire are subject to at least three limitations. First, rates of injury and death could not be determined because of the lack of an accurate denominator. Although previous studies have used registered OHRVs as a denominator, this number may vary in relation to season and other environmental factors (e.g., inclement weather). Second, because approximately one third of nonfatal injury reports were completed only by persons involved in the incident, some information reported may not be valid (e.g., helmet use, speed, and alcohol use). Finally, these findings probably underestimate the true incidence of snowmobile-associated injuries because of underreporting. Review of hospital emergency and discharge records could assist in evaluating the extent of underreporting.

Information from the injury reporting system in New Hampshire may be useful for public health surveillance and assessment of snowmobile and other OHRV injuries (4). In addition, this data source can be used by the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association and other organizations to target high-risk groups for intervention programs. Since 1975, DFG has operated a safety training course for OHRV users. State law requires that any OHRV operator driving off their private property either possess a valid driver's license (minimum age: 16 years) or have taken this course. Operators aged less than 30 years should especially be targeted by any intervention strategy; in particular, young operators with a valid driver's license are encouraged to take the DFG safety course.

References

  1. Rowe B, Milner R, Johnson C, Bota G. Snowmobile-related deaths in Ontario: a 5-year review. Can Med Assoc J 1992;146:147-52.

  2. Hargarten SW. All-terrain vehicle mortality in Wisconsin: a case study in injury control. Am J Emerg Med 1991;9:149-52.

  3. Rodgers GB. The effectiveness of helmets in reducing all-terrain vehicle injuries and deaths. Accid Anal Prev 1990;22:47-58.

  4. Smith SM, Middaugh JP. An assessment of potential injury surveillance data sources in Alaska using an emerging problem: all-terrain vehicle-associated injuries. Public Health Rep 1989; 104:493-8.

* Because the standard reporting form was changed in 1992, comparison with later years was not possible.



Table_1
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TABLE 1. Selected characteristics of incidents and operators * of snowmobiles
involved in injury, by outcome -- New Hampshire, January 1989-February 1992
==========================================================================================
                         Operator involved               Operator involved
                      in fatal incident (n=13)      in nonfatal incident (n=188)
                      ------------------------      ----------------------------
Characteristic            No.           %                  No.         %
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Male                      13          (100)               161        (86)
Age <20                    0                               40        (21)
Age 20-29                  7          ( 54)                75        (40)
Safety course
  completion               0                               14        ( 7)


                         Fatal incident (n=9)       Nonfatal incident (n=155)
                      ------------------------      ----------------------------
Characteristic              No.         %                No.           %
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Darker periods +             7        (78)               64          (46)
Operating on a
  frozen body
  of water                   5        (56)               36          (23)
Inclement weather &          0                           25          (16)
Excessive speed @            6        (67)               36          (35)
Alcohol use @                6        (67)               16          (16)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* One incident may involve more than one vehicle or operator.
+ Defined as 4 p.m.-8 a.m., November-March. Denominator is 139 for nonfatal category (no
  time noted on other reports).
& Fog or active snow, sleet, or rain.
@ For police-reported incidents only: 100% of fatal reports; 103 (66%) nonfatal reports.
==========================================================================================

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