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Group works to reduce alcohol use on trails, lakes

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ANN MARIE AMES
January 31, 2010
— Mike Cerny thinks a state campaign urging snowmobilers to can the alcohol when they’re on the trail is a good start, but it’s not enough.

Cerny of Sharon is chairman of the governor’s snowmobile recreation council. The group has been working for more than a year to suggest ways to improve restrictions on alcohol use for recreational vehicle users.


Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point, has taken the council’s input and is drafting a bill.


The goals are to unify the laws and penalties for intoxicated operation of recreational vehicles and to make the public realize recreational vehicle safety advocates are serious about changing habits in Wisconsin, Molepske said.


Cerny, who is a snowmobiler himself and a long-time member of the council, said the work to change the law is a reaction to the large number of fatal snowmobile accidents every year in Wisconsin.


So far this winter, 12 people have died on snowmobiles, according to DNR data. On average, 27 people die in snowmobile accidents in Wisconsin each year, said Gary Eddy, snowmobile/ATV administrator with the DNR.


“Our full council gets the report every Monday,” Cerny said. “When you have to read those numbers and read those deaths, it hits home.”


Wisconsin penalties for operating a recreational vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater vary depending on the type of recreational vehicle being used, Cerny said. The group wants to change that.


In addition, council members want to tie alcohol violations on recreational vehicles to drivers licenses, he said.


Initially, that plan met with “extreme resistance,” Cerny said.


After some negotiating, the council suggests second or subsequent offenses on a recreational vehicle be tied to the operator’s driving record.


“This is a very reasonable approach,” Cerny said. “We’ve got some of the real strict people upset, and the people who don’t want any changes are upset. So I think we’ve found a good compromise.”


The council also suggests that an operator who gets an alcohol violation on one kind of recreational vehicle would lose the privilege to operate another kind of recreational vehicle, Cerny said.


“If you’re picked up on a recreational vehicle, there would be a fine, and you would lose your privilege to operate any of those vehicles,” Cerny said. “If you got a ticket on a boat, you would not be allowed to jump on an ATV or a snowmobile and do the same thing.”


The changes would make Wisconsin regulations similar to laws on the books in Michigan and Minnesota, Cerny said.


The changes could improve recreational-vehicle use for all Wisconsin residents, he said.


“We just feel there are too many deaths,” Cerny said. “Some of those are drowning, which we can’t help. Some are just plain stupidity. But a number of them are speed- and alcohol-related.


“There are people who will not snowmobile on weekends because they want to avoid the crowd that drinks too much,” Cerny said. “This is a family sport, and we want to keep it a family sport.”


ZERO ALCOHOL CAMPAIGN

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this month launched a campaign to discourage snowmobilers from using alcohol while they ride.


Along with educational programs, DNR wardens will issue “Zero Alcohol” stickers to snowmobilers and ask them to display the stickers on helmets and equipment.


Being alcohol free is not a legal requirement, but reducing the number of drunken operators could make trails safer, said Gary Eddy, the DNR’s snowmobile safety administrator.


“It’s a matter of personal choice,” Eddy said. “We just ask that snowmobilers only ride with other people who choose not to drink before or during the ride. These sledders aren’t going out, getting intoxicated and just killing themselves. They have killed others in the group while they were intoxicated.”


Wisconsin regulations prohibit operators of snowmobiles, ATVs or motorboats from having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater.


For the last three years, Wisconsin has ranked third in the nation for snowmobile fatalities, Eddy said.


On average, 27 people die in Wisconsin each year while snowmobiling. In many cases, alcohol was involved, he said.


There are about 217,000 registered snowmobiles in Wisconsin. The DNR annually issues about 30,000 out-of-state snowmobile trail passes, he said.


To learn more, go online to dnr.wi.gov and type “Zero Alcohol” in the search box.



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