There may be occasions when you need to move your riding lawn mower from one location to another – perhaps locally or a little further afield when you’re mowing multiple lawns or lending it out to friends or family. But is it ok to drive it on the road?
Lawn mowers are classed as vehicles in some states but not others, so it could be illegal to drive one in the street even with a slow moving vehicle sign. In states where it is legal, you could still be charged with an offence if you don’t have a license – or even a DUI if you’ve been drinking.
This whole subject is a bit of a mine field, so let’s dig down into all these issues to find out what you can and can’t do when it comes to riding a lawn mower on the road. This is not legal advice though, so please check with your local law enforcement and state rules before venturing out in the street on your mower.
Are Lawn Mowers Road Legal in Some States?
It seems like a simple question, but this gets tricky. Very tricky.
The words “street legal” mean that your lawn mower needs to have a license plate, registration, headlights and turn signals (functioning ones). Most riding lawn mowers do not have these things. So, not street legal, right?
But what is a “street”? A street is defined as somewhere other cars go. It has painted lines. Streets are usually found in cities. Does a dirt road out in the country qualify as a “street”? Turns out, it makes a difference if your “street” is in a busy city, or in a suburb, or is a country road.
Is my riding lawn mower street legal in my subdivision? In some subdivisions, the HOA has a surprising amount of power and you should check what the rules are. If your subdivision has no HOA, check with your city or town laws.
What about on a “street” that’s a highway? No. No riding lawn mowers on highways. Ever. Highways have speed restrictions that 99% of riding lawn mowers cannot meet – slow-moving vehicles are illegal. Riding lawn mowers just can’t go fast enough to be safe on a highway.
Driving too slowly is a speeding violation – and you can be ticketed for it. Most areas, even rural ones, have speed restrictions for slow drivers. If you are too slow you are “impeding traffic”.
Generally, if your riding lawn mower can’t go more than 15 miles per hour, you will be in violation. In rural areas, you may be OK by posting a slow-moving vehicle sign, but not on busy streets.
Definitions of the word street and what’s legal or not are complex. Statutes, laws, and rules vary from state to state, county to county, city to city and subdivision to subdivision. The best advice of all is to check the rules where you live.
Look up the laws on the website of your county and state. Check the city laws if you live inside city limits. Check the county laws if you live in an unincorporated area.
If the written laws are unclear to you (they are usually written by lawyers, after all), make calls until you get straight answers.
Does it Make a Difference if The Road is City or Rural?
Yes. Out in the countryside, where most of the roads are dirt, the “street” part of “street legal” is a grey area. In rural areas, slow-moving tractors move from field to field all the time, using the roads.
Check with your county about the law. On a country dirt road with a low-speed limit, you will probably be allowed to drive a short distance on your riding lawn mower.
Next, consider the personal risk. In farming communities, there are tractors on the roads all the time. Everyone is aware of slow vehicles. Drivers are careful and considerate. Speed limits are low. If you are legally allowed, the personal risk is probably acceptable.
On other rural roads, driving a riding lawn mower is risky. The speed limit can be 25 miles per hour or more and many drivers drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit.
On roads with higher speed limits, inevitably, someone will want to pass you. Is there a good-sized shoulder along your route? Are there sharp curves or hills that affect visibility? Is this a popular route for hikers or bicyclists, which makes passing trickier? Even if you are legally allowed, you may not want to risk it.
Is a Lawn Mower Considered a Vehicle?
Sorry, no straight answer – again.
A “vehicle” is defined as any device capable of moving a person, either on their property or a road. Some states use the words “motor vehicle” or define a vehicle as something not “self-propelled”, like a bicycle. So: riding lawn mowers are vehicles, right?
Except not all states agree. Even though riding lawn mowers are clearly capable of moving a person and are not self-propelled, the law can also consider the “intent” of the vehicle. The intent of a lawn mower is to mow grass, not transport people. So: not a vehicle, right?
But what about a golf cart? Are golf carts “vehicles”? Golf carts are allowed on streets in many states and towns. Back to intent. Golf carts are designed to transport people – it is their intent.
If all this weren’t weird enough, in many states, lawn mowers are considered motor vehicles – but not when they are stolen. For purposes of theft, a lawn mower is not a motor vehicle and so grand theft auto laws don’t apply.
Confused? Me too. Check out your state, county or city definition of “vehicle” before you drive your lawn mower off your lawn, or even down your block. If your city does define your mower as a “vehicle”, be sure to have your driver’s license with you.
Can You Be Charged With a DUI For Driving a Mower on The Road?
Yup. Absolutely yes.
Since riding lawn mowers are “vehicles” or “motor vehicles” in many states, DUI rules apply. Crack a few cold ones while on your own property – not on any public roadways.
Even though rules about driving riding lawn mowers from Point A to Point B on a street are fuzzy: rules are NOT fuzzy when alcohol is involved. You might get a warning from a friendly deputy who stops you while riding your lawn mower down the street. But when alcohol is involved, there are no friendly deputies.
JUST DON’T DO IT.
Does a Slow Moving Sign Make it Legal?
Yes, in some states.
SMV (slow moving vehicle) signs are reflective, bright orange triangles that are bordered with red. They are mounted on the back of vehicles that may not be able to drive as fast as the speed limit.
Check with your state and county, but in most rural areas, vehicles who can’t get up to the speed limit are required to have an SMV sign on their back bumper. With it, you are somewhat protected by law – and you are more visible.
Can I Drive a Riding Mower on The Road Without a License?
Generally, if your state considers riding lawn mowers to be “vehicles” and allows them on the road, then you need a valid driver’s license to operate one.
If your license is suspended – no driving any vehicle on the road.
Can I Drive a Mower on The Sidewalk?
The turning radius on a riding lawn mower is not exactly a dime. More like the size of a blue plastic kiddie pool. Inevitably, you will have to run onto the sidewalk when making a mowing turn. But what about driving some distance down a sidewalk or bike path, like for a few blocks?
Nope, no mowers on sidewalks. In most places, motorized vehicles are banned from sidewalks. No vehicle is allowed other than those powered by humans (like bicycles). The ban includes electric scooters and electric bikes. In some places, even skateboards are banned on the sidewalks.
In cities with lots of pedestrians, bicyclists that ride on the sidewalk are yelled at, or worse. Sidewalks are for walking. Riding lawn mowers are motorized. Better to just use the street.
Can a Child Drive a Mower on the Road?
Absolutely not, never, no way José. You don’t need to check with your state, county or city. No child should ever drive a mower on the road.
In fact, in some states, children under the age of 16 are not allowed to operate lawn mowers at all. At all – in your own yard. Mostly this law is in states where riding lawn mowers fall under the “vehicle” category.
But even if you don’t live in one of those states, consider this: lawn mower accidents are the leading cause of amputations for children in the U.S. In 2017, 800 children were run over by riding lawn mowers. Of those, 600 resulted in amputations. Statistically, for children under the age of 10 years old, limb loss is mostly caused by lawn mowers.
Can I Carry a Passenger When Driving My Lawnmower on The Road?
Let’s say you have managed to determine whether you and your mower are legally allowed on the road. And you have weighed the personal risk if a faster-moving vehicle accidentally clips you. Can you take a grandchild with you?
No. Absolutely not. It is against the law to have passengers of any age on riding lawn mowers. Mowers have one seat. That one seat is designed to hold your body comfortably and safely in place on the mower. Mowers are designed for only one person and the law agrees – only one.
In the final analysis, it is legal to ride your lawn mower down the road in some states but not in others – but you need a license to do it wherever you are, and you can’t take a passenger or have had a drink (obviously).
The rules are different again for built up or rural areas, so always check the law in your local area before attempting to drive your lawn mower in the street.
Another alternative is to invest in a trailer for your riding lawn mower, so you can move it around safely to different locations (just like a lawn care professional), so you don’t risk getting a ticket for your trouble.
Chances are you won’t be as lucky as the old guy in The Straight Story – so it’s just not worth the risk. Watch this movie by the way, it’s one of the best you’ll ever see. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >