According to a new report, backover accidents involving riding lawn mowers cause a surprisingly large number of serious injuries and deaths, particularly involving young children, which could largely be avoided with simple design changes.
The non-profit investigative news organization FairWarning indicates that there were at least 133 cases of young children being run over by riding lawn mowers backing up since 2004, typically occurring when drivers have the blades engaged while in reverse.
While human error plays a part in these lawn mower backover accidents, many tragedies could be prevented with safety features that stop the spinning of blades while the mower is being reversed.
According to the study, which analyzed court records, news reports, and interviews, at least eight children were killed and the 125 others suffere varying degrees of injury, including amputations of fingers, hands, feet limbs and internal organ damage.
One of the most recent backover incidents was reported last month when West Virginia resident, Jeremy Westfall, put his riding lawn tractor in reverse with the mowing blade still engaged and accidentally ran over his six year old daughter. According to the police report, the child’s toes had been cut off and a piece of her foot became stuck in the mower deck.
FairWarning indicates that the number of injuries they looked into was almost certainly an undercount, citing a 2017 study published by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, which found 1,641 back over injuries in the United States from 1999 to 2014. That report indicated roughly 65 lawnmower backover accidents occur every year, with more than 70% involving children under the age of five years old.
Researchers indicated these types of backover incidents have been known about by lawn mower manufacturers for decades, however little has been done to mitigate their occurrence.
In 2013, the mower industry adopted a voluntary standard that requires the mower blades to stop spinning when the mower moves into reverse, but allows the driver the option to override the feature to keep the blades engaged.
Critics have claimed this standard does little to help because the driver could override the blade disengagement without ever turning around, which negates the safety purpose of the mechanism and continues to allow dozens of children to be maimed and killed annually.
FairWarnings report indicates that many lawn mower manufacturers design their machines to let the mower blades continue running when it is put in reverse and have even added an override button, yet add warnings in their operating manuals and on their websites to not mow in reverse. Many believe this is an attempt to let consumers have it both ways while protecting the manufacturer from lawsuits.
The research group indicated manufacturers could easily and inexpensively add a button behind the operator’s seat so they would have to turn around to look before the blade engages in reverse, allowing them to see if a child is nearby.