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The Grass Is Always Meaner

Ride-on mowers are hazardous to kids, says AAP

WEDNESDAY, June 6, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Kids should be 16 years old before they climb on a riding lawn mower and at least 12 years old before they push a power mower across the lawn, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), updating its previous policy.

But at least one major lawn-mower maker disagrees with age limits, saying the different rates at which kids mature ought to be considered.

Of the 68,000 people injured each year in lawn-mower accidents, some 9,400 are kids under age 18, says the AAP. With no state, federal regulations or industry guidelines, parents need common-sense recommendations, the AAP says. The new guidelines are in the June issue of Pediatrics.

"I'm a pediatric emergency medicine physician, and I actually see the results of these types of injuries. These are devastating injuries -- amputated legs, mutilated extremities. It's unbelievable what these injuries can be like." says Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Smith says the new AAP recommendations are much wider than previous guidelines, issued three years ago, that did not make recommendations about power push mowers. "We want to help people understand this important safety issue and get involved in the prevention of these injuries," he says.

"Not only should there be age limitations on teens using ride-on mowers, but kids under age 6 should be kept indoors while the lawn is being mown," Smith says. "And no child should be allowed to ride as a passenger on mowers or be towed behind mowers in carts and trailers." Nearly one in four lawn-mower injuries among kids happen to those under age 5, he says.

"In terms of numbers, about 850 kids per year get run over by a lawn mower," Smith says. "Studies have shown that power lawn mowers accounted for about 22 percent of all amputations in one trauma center in the Seattle area, and … that is telling us that lawn mowers are a major cause of amputation in children, and that is something we can prevent." Smith says 7 percent of all lawn mower accidents with children resulted in amputations.

He says the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated 75 deaths per year were related to ride-on mowers between 1983 and 1986. Ride-on mowers cause most of the fatalities, and three times the number of injuries as push-type power mowers, he says.

Cuts account for more than 40 percent of all lawn-mower injuries, Smith says.

In 1992, there were about 44 million walk-behind movers and about 10 million ride-on mowers in the United States. Between 1991 and 1993, there were about 26,800 injuries each year involving ride-on mowers serious enough to require emergency room treatment.

Deere & Company, whose products include tractors and mowers, applauds the academy's effort to publicize lawn mower safety but says restrictions are not the way to go.

"Giving this awareness may prevent future incidents, but since maturity levels are different for children, John Deere does not sanction any particular age for mowing machine operation," says Gary Mills, Deere's manager of product safety in Moline, Ill.

Mills says the AAP's recommendations are excellent, and suggests a few more for the list. "All children and pets should be kept indoors, under supervision, when mowing," he says. "Proper dress, including eye protection and close-fitting clothing also are important. And finally, read and understand the operator's manual. Become familiar with all the controls, the safety decals and the messages."

What To Do

Mill's safety list also includes:

  • Removing any objects or debris that might be thrown from a blade before mowing any area;
  • Always operating with the discharge chute, bagger or mulch plug in the proper position;
  • Not mowing in reverse; however, if necessary to do so, always look down and behind you for anyone or anything in your path.

For more on lawn mower safety, visit the AAP's Injury Prevention Program or the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Or, read these previous HealthDay stories on summer dangers.

SOURCES: Interviews with Gary Smith, M.D., Dr.Ph., FAAP, director, Center for Injury Research and Policy, Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio; Gary Mills, Manager-Product Safety, Deere & Company, Moline, Ill.: June, 2001 Pediatrics
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