A look at snowmobile-riding laws
With the snowmobile riding season officially opening Dec. 1, many questions always come up on this topic. I will address some of these most common questions, as well as some that we regularly deal with this time of year.
LET'S DEFINE WHAT A SNOWMOBILE IS
A snowmobile, legally, is "any motor-driven vehicle designed for travel primarily on snow or ice of a type that utilizes sled-type runners or skis, an endless belt tread, or any combination of these or other similar means of contact with the surface upon which it is operated, but is not a vehicle that must be registered under the Michigan vehicle code, 1949 PA 300, MCL 257.1 to 257.923."
CAN I OPERATE MY SNOWMOBILE ON THE ROAD?
Anywhere in the state, no. Most northern counties have adopted local ordinances allowing for operation on some or all county roads, provided they ride on the shoulder. That is the case in Lake County.
You are allowed to travel on Lake County roads, provided it is on the shoulder -- and most importantly, is "with the flow of traffic."
The local U.S. Forest Service has advised me that national forest roads are not open to operation, unless it is also designated as a snowmobile trail.
The state law does allow for snowmobiles to "be operated on the right-of-way of a public highway (as in M-37 and US-10), except a limited access highway (as in US-131 or I-96), if it is operated at the extreme right of the open portion of the right-of-way and with the flow of traffic on the highway."
Also, it should be noted that when operating on the roadway shoulder, a snowmobile is allowed to travel at the posted speed limit for motor vehicles.
WHAT STICKERS OR PERMITS DO I NEED?
The short answer is you need to display a valid Michigan snowmobile registration (or registration from another state) and a valid Michigan snowmobile trail permit (sticker).
The "registration decals" must be placed on each side of the forward half of the cowl above the footwell.
No number other than the registration number may be displayed on the snowmobile.
The "trail permit sticker" needs to be permanently affixed to the forward half of the snowmobile directly above or below the headlight.
The only time you would NOT need a trail permit:
1) When operated exclusively on lands owned or under the control of the owner.
2) When exclusively operated in a special event of limited duration which is conducted according to a prearranged schedule under a permit from the governmental unit having proper jurisdiction.
3) Used solely for transportation on the frozen surface of public waters for the purpose of ice fishing.
COMMON UNKNOWN FACT
You do not need a driver's license to operate a snowmobile. However, if your driver's license has been suspended or revoked, you cannot operate a snowmobile.
THE TRUTH ABOUT DUAL-PURPOSE TRAILS
There are some trails/routes that are open to both snowmobiles and ORVs. Some would believe that these are only open to one or the other, depending on the time of year, and that is simply untrue.
It may be common courtesy to not drive your ORVs on the packed snow of a mixed trail, but the law does not forbid it. You can legally operate your ORVs any time of the year.
Be aware that not all snowmobile trails are dual-purpose, meaning there are trails that are only open to snowmobiles. Make sure you are familiar with the proper trail signage to avoid having an issue.
For age requirements for young riders, please visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website at michigan.gov/dnr.
This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.
If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to email@example.com.
As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.