With a long summer of mowing ahead, parents of teens and pre-teens may be wondering when it's safe for a child to take over this chore. Children under 18 suffer 13 percent of the 68,000 mower injuries treated annually in emergency rooms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With that in mind, the AAP recommends that no child younger than 12 operate a walk-behind mower, that no teen younger than 16 drive a riding mower and that children never be allowed to ride along as passengers.
Fortunately, today's mowers come with some standard safety features that put the operator at less risk of getting hurt such as levers that stop the mower when you let go of the handle. Still, before sending your child out to mow the lawn or doing it yourself, brush up on these commonsense tips recommended by the AAP and Consumer Reports.
- Before beginning the job, clear the lawn of such hard objects as stones and toys so they don't become projectiles, the most common cause of injury.
- Check the gas before starting the machine. Mowers should be refueled with the motor off and cool. Refuel only outdoors, not in a garage or shed.
- Make sure that blade settings (to set the wheel height or dislodge debris) are done by an adult, with the mower off and the spark plug removed or disconnected.
- Wear sturdy shoes--not sandals or sneakers.
- Wear hearing and eye protection.
- Make sure that young children and pets are indoors or at a safe distance.
- Don't pull the mower backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary. If you do, look behind you first.
- Always turn the mower off and wait for the blades to stop completely before removing grass or unclogging the discharge chute.
- Turn the mower off when crossing gravel paths, roads, or other non-grassy areas.
- Never mow wet grass--you or the mower could easily slip.
- Don't text or talk on a cell phone.
- Mowing on an incline can be tricky and probably best left to the adults.
If you're in the market for a new mower, use our Ratings charts to find one with the safety features you want. On the model page, click on the tab that says Specs. Of course, while you're there check out how the mower performed in our tests as well as the reliability of that particular brand. That way you'll be sure to find a mower that'll last long after your young one has flown the coop.
—Mary H.J. Farrell