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Zero-turn lawn mowers have become more and more popular with homeowners with large yards.

Thanks to the zero-turning radius (where they get their name), these mowers are great for efficient lawn care. You can cut grass quickly and navigate more easily around your yard.

However, there are some factors that make zero-turn mowers dangerous – or at least, they mean you should exercise plenty of caution when using one.

The dangers of zero-turn mowers include:

These risks don’t mean you shouldn’t get a zero-turn model, but you should take them into consideration when choosing the right lawn mower for your yard.

That way, you’re making a fully informed decision and can educate yourself so you can use your zero-turn mower safely.


What is a Zero-Turn Mower?

yellow zero turn lawnmower

A zero-turn lawn mower (or ZTR, for zero-turning radius) is a type of riding mower.

Unlike standard ride-on mowers, a zero-turn mower has front wheels that can turn separately, allowing the mower to pivot easily. This means they can perform tighter turning circles (almost a full 180º).

Most zero-turn mowers fall under two types:

  • Mid-mount: This is where the mower deck is suspended underneath the chassis.
  • Out front: The mower is mounted on the front of the chassis, also called “terrain following.”


Riding Mowers Vs. Zero-Turn Mowers

Riding mowers are a type of lawn mowing equipment that you can sit on and ride. This sets it apart from more “traditional” mowers, like a push mower, which you walk behind.

There are several types of riding mowers, such as rear-engine models or “lawn and garden” models. Riding mowers are best for large yards from 250 sqm to 3000 sqm.

Zero-turn mowers are a type of riding mower, with modified front wheels that allow for a “zero” turning radius.

Instead of making a wider U-turn, the mower can pivot on its front wheels to effectively make a 180º turn. This leaves no patches of uncut grass and neater rows.

However, zero-turn models can be somewhat fuel inefficient, leading to additional costs from fuel and engine oil.


When to Get A Zero-Turn Mower

While zero-turn mowers often cost more upfront (generally upwards of $7,000), many homeowners choose to get them for their premium features.

Riding lawn mowers are great for up to 3/4 acres (3,000sqm). However, for lawn sizes and acreage above that (up to 3 acres or 12,000 sqm), zero-turn mowers are the better choice.

If you’re looking to buy a new machine, use our lawn mower buying guide to make an informed decision. 

For a zero-turn model, look for mower deck widths of at least 950mm and at least an 18hp engine.


Advantages of a Zero-Turn Lawn Mower

mowing the green grass zero turn lawn mower

There are many reasons for homeowners to get zero-turn mowers. Large lawn size is one, but ZTRs have other advantages.



Riding mowers – and therefore zero-turn mowers – can reach high speeds that you don’t get even with self-propelled mowers.

A typical zero-turn mower reaches speeds between 8–12 km/h (5–8 mph). In contrast, most self-propelled mowers have max speeds of 4–5 km/h (2.5–3 mph).

Faster speeds mean you’re more efficient with your time while getting your lawn care done.


Precision manoeuvring

If you’ve ever driven a car (or used a riding mower), you’ll know it can be tricky to manoeuvre a vehicle around turns or obstacles.

Zero-turn mowers allow more precise manoeuvring, since you can make sharper turns around obstacles such as garden beds or paths. You can also get closer to edges such as fences and retaining walls.

Moreover, you’ll have neater “strips” on your lawn. Once you go from one end of the lawn to another, you can simply make a full 180º turn and begin cutting the next strip or row, leaving no uncut grass.



Modern zero-turn models come with many customisation options, such as mulching attachments or edgers.

You could even get accessories such as canopies for shade or cup holders for a cold drink!


Reduced stress on user

man cutting grass in a residential neighborhood with a zero turn lawnmower

For more traditional riding mowers, there can be significant strain on the user as they try to turn and manoeuvre the mower around the yard.

Zero-turn mowers are lighter and feature more precise steering, so they require less effort to drive around the yard.



Reputable brands build their zero-turn mowers to last. The models will feature high-quality components, from the engine to the wheels.

How long does a zero-turn mower last? A well-maintained machine will last you between 1,000–2,000 hours of operating use.

Major repairs, minor accidents, or misuse could shorten your mower’s lifespan.


The Danger of Zero-Turn Mowers

While zero-turn mowers can make lawn maintenance more efficient, they’re not without their disadvantages.

There are several factors that make zero-turn mowers dangerous, especially for first-time users.


Overturning or rollovers

The yellow zero-turn mower parked in the middle of the green grass field

One of the biggest safety risks of a zero-turn mower is overturning or rolling over.

Overturning or rollovers are usually caused by the user losing control of the mower – especially when mowing over uneven terrain or slippery surfaces (such as wet lawns).

And rollovers can cause serious injuries, especially if you’re thrown from the machine or pinned underneath it.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and take safety precautions (such as wearing protective gear).

If you’re still looking for a model, look for one that has a seat belt and rollover protection system.


Difficult learning curve

Zero-turn mowers – and even regular riding mowers – will have a steeper learning curve compared to a traditional walk-behind model.

You’ll need to learn all the controls, from steering to gears (unless your model has an automatic transmission). It will take a lot of practice so you can drive the mower safely and smoothly.

The zero-turn feature in particular will take a lot of work to learn and execute properly. Go slow while learning so you don’t cause any accidents and hurt yourself.


Steep slopes

Residential two story brick house with a sloped back yard

There are specific lawn mowers that can tackle sloped ground, but most zero-turn mowers cannot tackle a slope steeper than 10º.

Sloped surfaces can easily cause tip-overs or sliding. The mower’s design, which is meant for stable and level surfaces, can pose significant risks on inclines.

In particular, a rear-mounted engine could be an issue when mowing upwards due to the weight.

Moreover, even on more gentle inclines, wet grass can make it difficult to operate the mower. It can either clog the mower deck and abruptly stall the engine, or cause the mower to slip or slide during use.


Flying debris

This is especially true for zero-turn models with out-front mower decks. The blades can pick up debris such as sticks, rocks, and toys, and launch them into the air.

That debris can then hit either the operator or a bystander and cause serious injuries.

It’s worth taking some time to remove any particularly large or solid debris from your lawn before mowing. Wear proper safety equipment (such as a hard hat and eye protection) while working.

You should also regularly sharpen your lawn mower blades to minimise the risk of them picking up and throwing debris instead of cutting through.



Zero turn lawn mower parked near a house

Inexperienced operators (or anyone not paying attention) could collide with things like tree trunks and retaining walls. There is also the risk of colliding with another person.

High speeds and vantage points mean you may not see obstacles in your path or may not be able to manoeuvre out of the way.

Additionally, many zero-turn mowers do not have brake pedals. Instead, the braking mechanism is often built into the steering wheel or levers.

Your instinct might be to try and stop the mower by stomping your foot, but that won’t work. Even if you do get the correct mechanism, the brake is usually designed to carefully slow you down – not cause an abrupt stop.

Uneven ground could also make it difficult to avoid trees, garden beds, and other obstacles.

This makes it all the more important to ensure your mower has safety features like seat belts and a rollover protection system.


Safety Tips While Using a Zero-Turn Lawn Mower

While you should keep these risks in mind, zero-turn mowers are safe to use – so long as you take proper precautions and follow operational instructions.

Always check the safety features of your mower. Keep yourself informed about proper use and emergency procedures.

Take steps to significantly reduce or prevent accidents. Do not mow wet grass (or while it’s raining) and clear your lawn of any large debris before working.

You may want to consider removing any tree stumps and levelling your lawn.

Besides being better for your mower, level terrain will improve soil drainage, prevent structural damage, and minimise safety hazards.

For homes near bodies of water or yards with drop-offs, keep a safe distance away – about two mower widths from the edge.

Avoid sudden stops or sharp turns that could throw you off or cause tip-overs. Only use your mower during the day, when you have good visibility.

Wear protective equipment and gear while operating a ZTR. Make sure to wear close-toed shoes (boots, if possible), long pants, and eye protection (such as goggles).

Always disengage the blades when the mower is not in use.

Be aware of your surroundings while operating the mower. Ensure children and pets stay away from the yard while you work.

Check the mower’s components (such as the tyres, brakes, and engine) to make sure everything’s in working order. You can invest in a cover to prevent your lawn mower from getting wet and ensure proper storage.

While mowing, look out for any operating hazards, such as overheating or white smoke from your mower engine. The sooner you spot a problem, the sooner you can act to fix it and keep yourself – and your zero-turn mower – safe.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.