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Don't treat your lawn tractor like a car

How to stay safe behind the wheel of a riding mower

Published: June 05, 2015 11:15 AM

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Trading up to a lawn tractor or other riding mower can be a liberating experience for anyone who’s been pushing a mower over a half-acre or more. But with all that capability comes more ways to hurt yourself or others. An estimated 15,737 people went to the ER last year with mower related injuries and eight people died, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These tips from the experts at Consumer Reports and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute can keep you safe:

Know the equipment

Don’t treat your tractor or rider like a car that mows. Read the operator's manual to understand the controls, and be sure that any other family member who uses the machine does the same. Practice how to stop your mower quickly and to disengage the controls. And never remove or disable guards or other safety devices.

Survey the terrain

It’s harder with bigger properties to check in advance for holes, ruts, bumps, rocks, or other hidden objects. But all of these can pose a hazard or damage your blades. Tall grass—the reason you’re mowing—can hide obstacles. Hitting uneven terrain can even overturn the machine.

Dress appropriately

Sure, sandals and shorts feel good when you’re out in the hot sun. But you’re safer wearing sturdy shoes, long pants, and close-fitting clothing. You’ll also need hearing protection with all gasoline-powered tractors and riders.

Watch for hills and hazards

Especially on a slope, it’s very possible to slip, slide, and otherwise lose control. Be aware of the risks of rolling backwards and of dropping off a wall or bank—and perhaps into water. With zero-turn-radius riders in particular, rear-steering wheels give these riders their tight turns but make them difficult to control on steep slopes. Exceptions include riders that have steerable front wheels and steering wheels instead of the usual lap bars. And when mowing in reverse, be sure to check behind you for people, pets or obstacles.

Need a new tractor or rider?

Our walk-behind and riding mower Ratings include more than 180 models sold at home centers, Sears, dealers, and other retailers, including the $3,000 John Deere X300 and $3,500 Craftsman 20445 lawn tractors, and the $2,300 Troy-Bilt Mustang 42" 17WFCACS, a zero-turn-radius rider. Be sure to see our lawn mower buying guide before you shop.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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