This year, like last year’s winter weather, snow events in Northwest Ohio have ramped up in the second half of the season.
The past week, there were winter storm warnings and advisories in effect. Normally when we receive large snow events, out come the all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
The ATV Safety Institute gives this definition of an all-terrain vehicle as a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires, with a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.
Snowmobiles are structurally different from ATVs and are designed for a different purpose. While ATVs are built with four wheels for general outdoor use, snowmobiles are designed specifically for snow or ice. Instead of wheels, they have 2 skis that are steered with a handlebar, and a track in the back.
According to Geoff Southworth, who runs an online website titled Outdoor Troop that is dedicated to activities that occur outdoors, it is recommended you have ideally a minimum of 4 to 6 inches of snow on the ground for snowmobiling. Anything less could potentially damage parts of the snowmobile, which makes riding a risk.
What about the concern for snowmobiles and ATVs riding on private property without permission? Ohio law defines a “trespasser” as a person who enters someone’s property for their own purposes without being authorized, invited or induced to do so by the landowner or by the leaseholder, renter, occupant or other person who has control over the property. Trespassing is a crime and can also be the basis of a civil lawsuit if damages occur.
What is the landowner’s liability if a snowmobiler or ATV rider is harmed on their property? Ohio law also has an “attractive nuisance doctrine” adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court and later enacted by the Ohio Legislature that places a duty upon landowners to protect trespassers from any foreseeable, dangerous artificial conditions. These may include farm machinery, manure lagoons and fence posts.
To protect the landowner from trespassers, landowners need to install signs that establish clear boundary lines and can also warn trespassers about dangerous conditions. Under Ohio law, a landowner should post “no trespassing” signs “in a manner reasonably calculated to come to the attention of potential intruders.” “No trespassing” or similar warning signs should be easy to see and read from a distance. Landowners should post signs in places where trespassers might enter the property and post warning signs where they provide sufficient notice about dangerous conditions on the property.
For more information on trespassing issues in Ohio refer to Ohio State University Extension Farm Office Premises Liability Law Library – The Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Trespassers on The Farm at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/sites/aglaw/files/site-library/Trespassing%20law%20bulletin__0.pdf
Though this fact sheet refers to liability on agricultural property, the liability law is for all Ohioans including those who reside in urban areas.
The use of ATVs and snowmobiles in urban areas and townships are governed by local governments. Before riding on any municipal roadways, shoulders and or right of ways, contact the governing authority in charge of the roads and right of ways.
Riding snowmobiles and ATVs in the winter can be fun and exciting. Operators of these vehicles need to seek permission before riding on private property and municipal roadways. Some state and county parks have designated trails for these special vehicles. Have fun and be safe.
Portions of this article were acquired from ATV Safety Institute and Outdoor Troop. More information can be found at https://atvsafety.org/ and https://outdoortroop.com/.