Is a Lawn Mower a Motor Vehicle?

While lawn mowers can tackle many types of terrain, they’re generally not seen as one that should be riding down the road unless it’s for a brief period of time. Many people wonder whether a lawn mower is classified as a motorized vehicle and if they will hold the same weight when it comes to getting caught breaking the law with one. 

Let’s look at the definition of a motor vehicle and whether a rider mower is considered one. 

Is a riding lawn mower considered a motor vehicle?

A riding lawn mower race and obstacle course taking place in Bavaria
A riding lawn mower race | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images

While you would think a riding lawn mower would be classified as a motor vehicle, that’s not necessarily the case. According to Cornell Law School, it would need to be self-propelled and capable of transporting people and material to be considered a motor vehicle.

However, what would disqualify a potential candidate would include not being able to go over 25 mph on paved roads, and lawn mowers lack the standard safety features for driving on streets. This would include a reverse gear, differentials, or other safety equipment the state would otherwise require. 

A disqualified vehicle might also have features that would make it unsafe to drive on the highway, whether it be its size or its use as a military combat one with armor or artillery installed on it. 

However, the statute says that if a vehicle is clearly intended to be driven on paved roads, it will be classified as a motorized vehicle, whether it has certain features or not. If the device is without a feature and that item prevents it from driving on highways, it’s not a motor vehicle. So, you can see how confusing the answer is, but there are times when this question comes up in court.

The question of if a mower is a motor vehicle came up in a Georgia court

In 2006, Franklin Lloyd Harris drove his van into a Home Depot in Dalton, Georgia, and loaded up a Toro rider mower, driving off without paying for it. He was caught, and he was convicted to 10 years in prison due to repeat offenses in his past. You would think it was an open and shut case, but due to a technicality, Harris may not have deserved the punishment given to him for the crime. 

According to the Insurance Journal, the public defender at that time, Michael McCarthy, felt that Harris still deserved the theft charge, but he should not have been given the same sentence as a car thief. He argued that the riding lawn mower was not a “motorized vehicle,” as per the legal definition of it. 

Prosecutors pointed out that it was a self-propelled vehicle, which certainly has that feature. However, it was argued that while it could transport people and other items, it wasn’t designed to do either of those tasks. It was meant for cutting grass. Justices hearing the case called for the sentence to be overturned.

Modifying lawn mowers to perform fantastic feats, like speeds of 150 mph, are great, but some inventions only get you in trouble.

Other court cases arguing the classification of a riding lawn mower

The definition of a motor vehicle is so broad that whether a rider mower qualifies or not, prosecutors and defenders battle it out in court each time. Another case was brought in front of a judge in Ohio. 

According to the Telegram & Gazette, a 28-year-old man had deconstructed a rider mower and built it into a motorized bar stool that he drove around one night. He ended up having a minor crash with it, and when the police arrived on the scene and took him to the hospital, he was charged with driving while intoxicated. 

The man had confessed to an officer that he drank 15 beers that night and that his motorized bar stool device could go 38 mph on the roadway. He plead not guilty and then requested he get a trial by jury. It would be a tough case to win since he admitted to drinking too much and stated that his bar stool could go faster than the maximum 25 mph, which is what would’ve disqualified it as a motorized vehicle. 

Defining a motorized vehicle is surprisingly tough since lawn mowers can perform much like a car on the road. They aren’t meant to drive around on the highway or any kind of track unless it’s for marketing purposes. Riding lawn mowers are only meant to mow yards. While you may be able to get away with using a mower on a paved road, don’t plan to drive it after drinking because you’re likely to get charged as if it were a car or truck.

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