Q: Do snowmobile drivers have to follow the same traffic laws as automobile drivers? I've often seen them in the ditch on public roadways going in the opposite direction (heading east on the west bound side of the highway for example) and traveling on the wrong side of the road through town. If an automobile is turning right about the same time a snowmobile going straight reaches the approach, who has the right of the way? Also, what about riding through private property such as fields and yards?
A: The first question posed is whether snowmobiles have to follow the same traffic laws as automobile drivers. The answer is mostly yes. Minnesota statute 84.87 subdivision 1(6)(f) requires that all provisions of chapters 169 and 169A (regular traffic statues) apply to the operation of snowmobiles upon streets and highways, except for those related to vehicle equipment and those parts of the statutes that by their nature could not apply to snowmobiles.
Different types of roadways have different regulations regarding where in the ditch operation is permitted. If one looks in the Minnesota Snowmobile regulations summary book, which is also available online, page 15 has a diagram showing that ditch operation is to be on the bottom or outside slope. Statute only restricts direction of travel in the ditch at night, where snowmobiles are then required to go the same direction as the nearest lane of traffic. There can be exemptions to this in specific instances such as a marked 2 way trail that parallels the road. As far as being on the road in town, local ordinances can vary and state statute gives local governments this authority. Some communities benefit greatly from snowmobiles being able to access local businesses that are not accessible by trail.
A snowmobile is required to come to a complete stop before crossing any public roadway. Automobiles travelling on this roadway have the right of way, and snowmobiles are required to yield to any vehicle that creates a hazard. If the writer is specifically asking about a field approach, that would most likely be on private property and right of way would not be defined by statute.
Riding through private property without permission is never allowed and is trespassing. If you are having issues with snowmobiles on your private property, make sure your signage meets statutory requirements and get in contact with your local Conservation Officer.
Jake Willis is a Minnesota State Conservation Officer covering the Brookston station. Send your questions to email@example.com.