Ask an Official: Forestry director discusses use of snowmobiles on county roadways
This week’s featured question was asked of Lincoln County Forestry, Land and Parks Director Kevin Kleinschmidt
The question reads:
“What are the rules with using county roads to travel between trails on sleds? Are all county roads open to sleds or only roads that are specially marked? Thank you!”
Answer as given by Kleinschmidt-
“Wisconsin law provides for snowmobiles to be operated along public roads under certain specific circumstances. State Statute 350.02 governs the use of snowmobiles on or in the vicinity of our public highways. Statute 350 defines the term“Highway” to mean all public ways and thoroughfares and bridges on the same. It includes the entire width between the boundary lines of every way open to the use of the public as a matter of right for the purposes of vehicular travel. In addition, “Roadway” is defined as that portion of a highway between the regularly established curb lines or that portion which is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, excluding the berm or shoulder. In a divided highway the term “roadway” refers to each roadway separately but not to all such roadways collectively.”
Statute 350.02 states that:
(1) No person may operate a snowmobile upon any part of any freeway which is a part of the federal system of interstate and defense highways. No person may operate a snowmobile upon any part of any other freeway unless the department of transportation authorizes snowmobile use on that freeway.
(a) No person may operate a snowmobile on any highway except in the following manner or as otherwise authorized by law:
1. Directly across any roadway having fewer than 5 lanes, but only after stopping and yielding the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway. Crossings under this subdivision may be made only at a place where no obstruction prevents a quick and safe crossing. For purposes of this subdivision, “obstruction” includes but is not limited to impairment of view and dangerous roadway condition.
1m. Directly across a roadway having 5 lanes, in the manner specified in subd. 1., but only if the department of transportation authorizes such a crossing.
2. On any roadway which is not normally maintained for other vehicular traffic by the removal of snow.
3. On the roadway of highways to cross a bridge, culvert or railroad right-of-way unless posted by the maintaining authority, but shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicular traffic.
4. On the roadway of county or town highways and city or village streets for special snowmobile events authorized under s. 350.04.
5. On highways which have been designated as routes and which are required to be marked. (Snowmobile routes are established by ordinance by the unit of government that has authority over the road. This ordinance must be filed with the DNR and with the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the road, and the road must be signed with snowmobile route signs where the route begins and ends and at such intervals that enable the snowmobiler to follow the route. When in doubt, contact the governmental agency having jurisdiction over a particular road to verify if it is legally open as a route.)
6. On a portion of the roadway or shoulder of a highway for a purpose of residential access or for the purpose of access from lodging if the town, city or village, within which that portion of the highway lies, enacts an ordinance under s. 350.18 (3) for that portion of the highway.
(b) Snowmobiles may be operated adjacent to a roadway with due regard to safety in the following manner:
1. Along U.S. numbered highways, state and county highways at a distance of 10 or more feet from the roadway. Travel upon the median of a divided highway is prohibited except to cross.
2. Along town highways outside of the roadway.
3. During daylight hours travel may be in either direction regardless of the flow of vehicular traffic.
4. At night travel shall conform to the direction of vehicular traffic in the nearest lane unless:
a. The snowmobile trail is located at least 40 feet from the roadway, or is separated from the roadway by a head lamp barrier; and
c. The use of the snowmobile trail is approved by the department of transportation with respect to snowmobile trails located near or crossing state trunk highways or by the officer in charge of maintenance with respect to snowmobile trails located near or crossing other highways.
5. Whenever it is impracticable to gain immediate access to an area adjacent to a highway, other than a freeway, where a snowmobile is to be operated, the snowmobile may be operated adjacent and parallel to the roadway for the purpose of gaining access to and from the area of operation. Loading or unloading of the snowmobile shall be accomplished with due regard to safety at the nearest practical point to the area of operation.
(2m) No person may operate a snowmobile on or adjacent to a roadway in excess of the applicable roadway speed limit established under s. 346.57 or 349.11 unless the person is operating the snowmobile as part of a special event authorized under s. 350.04.
(3) Snowmobiles may be operated for emergency purposes on any highway during a period of emergency when so declared by the governmental agency having jurisdiction.
(3m) A law enforcement officer or a commission warden, as defined in s. 939.22 (5), may operate a snowmobile on a highway in performance of his or her official duties if the snowmobile is equipped with a light that is red or blue or a combination thereof and that is flashing, oscillating, or rotating.
(4) Under no circumstances, except as provided in this section, is a snowmobile to be operated on the main-traveled portion of a highway or on the plowed portion.
“Thanks for the question. We get several inquiries per season on this subject so hopefully, by reading this statute, it will help snowmobilers understand what is legal and what is not allowed when operating a snowmobile along a public road. For more information on operating snowmobiles along a public roadway, contact a DNR law enforcement official or your local law enforcement agency.”
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