Ask an Official: DNR discusses ‘drunken’ snowmobiling laws and legislation
This week’s featured question is for Lincoln County DNR Conservation Warden Pat Novesky.
The question reads:
“After reading the recent article about snowmobile accidents, it is wonderful to hear our county and local riders have had another safe year. But still the number of deaths and factors of them bother me! I can’t help but wonder if making the laws tougher for drunken snowmobiling would reduce these fatal crashes!
“If I am correct, the penalty is pretty lax compared to driving a car, right? It doesn’t go on your record? What is the penalty for drunken snowmobiling? What would it take to get Madison to get tough on this? Are local police, the county and the DNR on board with making laws tougher? It seems like a simple solution to me but a solution that for some reason nobody wants to use!”
Question answered by Novesky:
“Thanks for your question, and I agree with you about the good safety news of our area snowmobile riders. To answer your question, the state law carries a penalty of $641.50 for the first offense of operating a snowmobile while intoxicated. The law provides the fine amounts to increase with more violations. Essentially, the violation for snowmobiling while intoxicated carries a fine amount and no other penalties. Because a driver’s license is not required to operate a snowmobile in Wisconsin, there is no legal basis at this time to revoke any driver’s license privileges for that violation.
“In comparison, operating a motor vehicle (car/truck) requires a valid driver’s license by state law. Because of this, operating while intoxicated 1st offense in a motor vehicle carries a penalty of $937.50 AND a 6- to 9-month revocation of your driver’s license since that operator’s license is a legal requirement for the operation of that vehicle.
“Over the years, there have been bills introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature that were written with the intention of tying the driver’s license to recreational vehicles – such as snowmobiles, boats and ATVs/UTVs. The idea behind these proposals was increased penalties would change behavior and in this case cause people to not drink and drive based on the risk of losing their driving privileges. To date, none of those bills have been successful. The process to change a law often start with citizen input or proposals and ultimately rests with elected officials, and does not involve the law enforcement agencies. As law enforcement officers, we are given the laws and need to work with those laws to accomplish the goal of getting everyone home safe at the end of their trail ride.”
Have a question or concern you would like to address? Simply send your question or concern to firstname.lastname@example.org along with an indication of which entity your question or concern pertains to. Current participants are the Merrill Police Department, Merrill Fire Department, Tomahawk Police Department, Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson and Merrill Area Housing Authority Director Paul Russell.Please note: Those who submit to the ‘Ask an Official’ feature remain anonymous.