Kids and Lawn Mowers Don't Mix

From the WebMD Archives

May 24, 2000 -- If parents realized what a riding lawn mower could do to a child, they wouldn't dream of letting their own kids cut the grass, one medical specialist says. In fact, he says, they'd keep them in the house even when Mom or Dad is on lawn duty.

"If parents could see what I see, they'd keep their kids off ride-ons and inside while mowing," says Chris Kennedy, MD, an emergency medicine specialist at Children's Mercy Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, both in Kansas City.

Kennedy was involved in one of two recent studies which found that lawn mower injuries are often mutilating or fatal to children, but can be prevented through public awareness. The other study, done by a group of Canadian researchers, recommends that children up to age 15 be kept away from all mowers.

Kennedy presented the findings of his research at the recent joint meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies and the American Academy of Pediatrics. For the study, he reviewed case reports of riding mower injuries to children from Children's Mercy Hospital and from a national injury database of cases from 1991 to 1996.

In all, there were 115 cases in which children under 7 were injured by ride-on mowers. Researchers found that 70% of the incidents involved boys, 30% required amputations, and 10% resulted in death. Some of the most common, accounting for 40% of all injuries, were caused by falling or jumping from mowers. Another 40% were due to sliding under a mower or being backed over. Surprisingly, all of the hospital cases occurred while a parent or relative was driving the mower.

Canadian researchers report similar findings in a study published in the Journal of PediatricSurgery. From 1990 to 1995, there were 180 national case reports involving either ride-on or push lawn mowers and children under age 15.

"Cuts, broken bones, and burns accounted for more than 60% of all injuries, half of which required amputation of toes, feet, or legs," says Pierre Soucy, MD, chief of general surgery at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

Referring to a 1990 policy statement on riding mowers by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the authors call for public education. The guidelines say children should be at least 14 years old and undergo a training period before operating ride-on mowers.

Kennedy's own rule of thumb is "off and inside," a reminder that kids should not be operators or passengers on mowers and are only out of harm's way if indoors.

Soucy is spreading the message "Know Before You Mow" with posters and pamphlets. The Canadian researchers recommend that no passengers be carried on riding mowers, and that protective footwear -- hard, closed-toe shoes -- be worn by anyone around a mower. They also say that "children younger than 15 years should not operate lawn mowers ... and should not be in the yard when lawn is being mowed."

Fortunately, manufacturers are enhancing the safety of riding lawn mowers. "Starting next year, all of our ride-on mowers will have a reverse lock-out mechanism," says William Lowe, director of marketing at Snapper Inc., based in McDonough, Ga. "This prevents the mower from moving in reverse when the blade is engaged."

In its ride-on owner's manuals, Snapper cautions against children operating or riding on the mowers, and advises that kids remain inside while lawns are being mowed. "But most people don't read owner's manuals," Lowe says, "so now we include both print and video versions to help get the message across."

Some lawn mower dealers also are willing to provide safety information and instruction.

"The safety of our customers is a major concern," says Jerry Shields, a spokesperson for Atlanta-based Home Depot. "The staff spends a lot of time on safety instruction in our tool rental department, and we'd certainly participate in public awareness about lawn mower safety."

Vital Information:

  • Lawn mower injuries to children can be mutilating or fatal, but can often be prevented.
  • Cuts, fractures, and burns account for 60% of all mower injuries; half of these types of injuries require amputation of the toes, feet, or legs.
  • In children under 7, injuries are often the result of falling or jumping from ride-on mowers. Others are caused by sliding under the mower or being backed over, even when parents or relatives are driving.
  • "Off and inside" is a good reminder that kids should not operate or be passengers on riding mowers, and are only out of harm's way if indoors.