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Law allows children to drive snowmobiles

FARGO -- North Dakota law is pretty accommodating when it comes to permitting children to operate snowmobiles, an issue in the spotlight following the weekend death of 10-year-old Mason Moen of Thompson in a snowmobile accident.

FARGO -- North Dakota law is pretty accommodating when it comes to permitting children to operate snowmobiles, an issue in the spotlight following the weekend death of 10-year-old Mason Moen of Thompson in a snowmobile accident.

North Dakota law allows a child 10 years old or younger to operate a snowmobile on private land. On public land, children must be at least 12 years old and have a driver's license or qualified safety certification for operating a snowmobile. Helmets are required for those 18 and under.

It's common for children to operate snowmobiles on private land, law enforcement officers and snowmobile enthusiasts said Monday.

"There's no age limit if you're on private property and you remain on private property," said Lt. Troy Hischer of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

"I think it's a common practice in rural areas," Lt. Gary Grove of the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department said of children 10 or under operating snowmobiles. "On private property, it is legal."

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Moen was killed Sunday in the accident near Hatton, N.D., and 9-year-old Brody Johnson of Hatton was seriously injured. The accident is being investigated by the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department.

The brothers' snowmobile had been crossing a farm field, then entered a roadway, where the operator lost control and the snowmobile rolled, demolishing the sled, according to a report by the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Helmets were found at the scene and it appears the boys were wearing helmets when the accident occurred, Hischer said, though he noted the accident remains under investigation.

Although state law allows children 10 and under to ride a snowmobile on private land, it is illegal for children that age to operate a snowmobile on public land or roads, he said.

Nate Harms, general manager at U Motors in Fargo, which sells snowmobiles, agreed that it is common in rural areas for kids to operate motorized sleds.

"Any farmer in the area probably has a kid driving a four-wheeler and a snowmobile," he said.

Smaller snowmobiles with less-powerful engines are available for kids, but most ages 10 or 12 probably operate standard machines, Harms said. High-performance machines, however, are not suitable for children, he said.

"You would hope they weren't on something like that," Harms said.

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In Minnesota, children under 14, with adult supervision, can operate snowmobiles on public or private land but can't cross roads, said Nancy Hanson of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association.

The association promotes snowmobile safety training, which includes a driving test and teaches youthful drivers about laws and speed limits, she said.

"I"m a very strong proponent of safety training," Hanson said.

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