Are Zero-turn Mowers Dangerous?

Zero-turn mowers are a life-saving tool in any garden. But like any other cutting tools and machines, these aren’t perfect either.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 70 people die while a whopping 80 000 are injured from riding lawn mowers. Unfortunately, most of these accidents are from zero-turn mowers.

Another shocking study by Amputee Coalition stated that lawnmower accidents are the top cause of pediatric amputations globally, with over 800 children run by ride-on mowers.

In this resource, we’ll look closely at the dangers of zero-turn mowers and the precautions you should take to avoid these risks.

Are Zero Turn Mowers Dangerous?

Judging by the above statistics, zero-turn mowers pose the greatest danger compared to all other types of lawnmowers. Part of this is due to their design and functionality. However, they are still safe to use. You’ll only need to take the necessary precaution measures, which we’ll share later below.

But first, let’s have a quick look at the design and science behind zero-turn mowers.

The Design of a Zero-turn Mower and How it Works

riding z turn

Unlike other riding mowers, a zero-turn mower works by differential steering. Instead of the usual steering wheels, it has two independent lever handles, which control the right and left wheels independently.

Other unique features that differentiate ZTR from tractors are the rear engine, and the rear wheels are bigger than the front wheels.

This unique design makes it possible to move the wheels of the mower independently, in different directions. Thus, z-turn mowers offer unmatched precision maneuverability. You can move one wheel forward while simultaneously moving the other in reverse to achieve a zero radius.

Are Zero-turn Mowers Good for Sloppy Areas?

Zero-turn mowers are best when mowing large, flat, open lawns. They’re fast and easy to turn around obstacles due to their impressive precision steering.

Unfortunately, ZTRs are only best for use on slopes of up to 15 degrees. That’s because the machine depends on a rear steering system. It also has rear brakes, which, when applied too quickly, may cause your mower to slide on slopes.

Another reason that makes z-turn mowers risky on slopes is their type of wheels. Their front wheels are casters, which offer little stability on slopes. What’s more, if driven at high speed, the wheels may skid when going up or down a hill, resulting in a rollover. See "Best zero-turn mower for hills" for more information.

How Dangerous are Zero-turn Mowers?

Zero-turn mowers rank up high in terms of speed and ease of use. All this is thanks to their unique design that makes it easy to maneuver, even around obstacles. However, this design comes in with a few flaws. Below we’ll look at some of the most common hazards associated with z-turn mowers.

  • Overturning

The front wheels of a z-turn mower are smaller than the rear ones. Plus, the engine of the machine is located on the rear side. Thus, most of the weight of this type of mower is exerted at the back.

Additionally, most zero-turn mowers rely on drum brakes located on the rear axle. Unlike front disc blades, which offer a better and instant emergency braking system, these aren’t as instant.

The above design is what makes the ZTR shine in terms of speed and maneuverability. On the flip side, it also makes the zero turn mower more likely to topple over than other types of mowers. Your machine can easily roll over even when obstructed by a tiny obstacle or pothole.

  • Dangerous Slides when mowing slopes

These types of mowers do not handle slopes well. They are only ideal for use on slopes of up to 15 degrees. Due to their design, the machine doesn’t get enough traction on the ground. Thus, a small attempt to turn either left or right while moving up or down a slope causes the machine to slide beyond the operator’s control.

As a general rule of thumb, always mow up and down and never across. Plus, only turn your machine while on a flat surface.

  • Accidental Cuts

Previously, many lawnmower injuries were a result of contact with the machines revolving blades. The effects were fatal. However, most current zero turn mower blades are set to stop as soon as the handles are released.

  • Running over Victims

Some mowers allow you to drive in reverse. However, if the operator isn’t keen to check whether there’s anyone behind them, especially children, they may run over them, causing severe injuries.

Must-have Safety Features in Zero Turn Mowers

With user safety at heart, manufacturers have now incorporated several safety features to minimize the risk of using a zero-turn mower. Here are some of the must-have ones.

  • Deadman’s Switch

The deadman’s switch is a lifesaver, literally. It is often placed inside the mower’s seat and automatically stops the mower and halts the rotating blades if the operator loses control and falls from their chair.

  • Warning Labels

Warning labels inform the operator of any part or parts of the machine containing moving parts, which may be dangerous to the users.

Safety Shield

A safety shield is installed next to the discharge chute. Its purpose is to ensure the mower doesn’t eject any debris into the air.

Safety Precautions When Using a Zero-turn Mower

Here are 8 safety measures you must consider to minimize ZTR accidents.

  1. Avoid driving in any high-risk areas such as slopes steeper than 15 degrees or areas close to water bodies. That’s because areas close to water may be slippery, wet, muddy, or unstable.
  2. Never drive a zero-turn mower on slopes above 15 degrees. We cannot over-emphasize that a zero-turn mower’s design makes it highly susceptible to turnovers and sliding on slopes. If you have to mow these areas, consider using a walk-behind mower.
  3. Always choose a mower installed with a rollover protection system (ROPS). Luckily, most machines will have this feature already in place. But if yours doesn’t have ROPS, consider retrofitting one. Most manufacturers will willingly accept to retrofit ROPS for their products at no extra cost.
  4. Never mow with people around. That’s because a child (or person) may be running right behind you and can quickly become victims of an unexpected slide. 
  5. Zero-turn mowers are loved for their speed and easy maneuverability. But that shouldn’t be tempted to drive too fast. That’s because a z-turn mower is more likely to lose control while being driven at high speed, it becomes incredibly challenging to maneuver your mower while driving at high speed.
  6. Remember to wear your seatbelt at all times during operation. Also, wear earmuffs or earplugs to protect your hearing. 
  7. Inspect the lawn you’re mowing to get an idea of the likely hazards you’re likely to come across. And, if possible, clear these hazards before you can start working. 
  8. Finally, take time to know your mower and all its features. That will help you to operate it flawlessly, understanding where all its crucial safety features are and how to use them, if needed.

The Bottom line

Zero-turn lawn mowers are safe to use and super-efficient when used in the right environment. They are quick and can easily maneuver around obstacles, thanks to their zero turning radius.

Use your z-turn mower on slopes less than 15 degrees. Ensure there are no people around when mowing. And finally, always wear your seatbelt and drive at a moderate speed. I hope this resource has answered all the questions you had about the safety of a zero-turn mower.

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