Ride-on lawn mowers look like tiny tractors. However, a lawn mower is more of a piece of equipment than a car you can drive to town. Still, it’s natural to be curious about whether or not you need a license to drive one.
The truth is, it depends on how your state defines what’s in your backyard.
Generally, you don’t need a license to drive a lawn mower in your backyard, especially in rural areas. When you use your lawn mower to cut grass in your backyard, you don’t pay taxes on it either. However, you need a lawn mower license when you use it in a business.
Lawn mowers, grass cutters, and garden tractors must meet specific safety standards. Manufacturers designed and built lawn mowers for the sole purpose of cutting grass. You shouldn’t use them for any other purpose except cutting grass.
If you’re still curious about the little details, keep reading.
Is a Lawn Mower a Motor Vehicle?
It depends on how to use it.
Most laws define motor vehicles as “self-propelled machines,” which means that they have some mechanism that doesn’t require muscle effort to operate.
Thus, ride-on lawn mowers fit the definition since you don’t use physical strength to operate them.
However, using a lawn mower on a farm excludes them from being a motor vehicle. Furthermore, the primary purpose of lawn mowers is to cut grass, not transport people.
In 2006, a man stole a lawn mower from a Home Depot store. His lawyers claimed that lawn mowers aren’t motor vehicles and demanded a reduction of his prison sentence. The judges denied their appeal. In that case, they countered that the motor vehicle definition stretches to include lawn mowers.
So, it depends on how your state defines a motor vehicle.
Why a Lawnmower Is and Isn’t a Motor Vehicle
Consider these self-powered vehicles:
- Mobility scooters
- Golf carts
- Electric bikes
- Powered wheelchairs
Even though they’re “self-propelled,” the law won’t consider them “motor vehicles,” and you don’t need a license to drive them.
A motor vehicle also features four wheels, a gasoline engine, and lights. Although a lawn mower meets these specifications, it’s still not a bona fide motor vehicle.
When the police catch you driving your lawn mower while drunk, they’ll charge you with driving under the influence (DUI), as if it was a motor vehicle.
But, if somebody steals your lawn mower, the judge might not consider it a motor vehicle.
A lawn mower remains in a legal gray area. Sometimes, it’s a motor vehicle. Sometimes, it’s not. It depends on your lawn mower’s location, usage, and specifications.
When you’re living on an off-grid farm, it’s not a motor vehicle because it’s considered farming equipment. But when you use it for transportation and getting around, it’s a motor vehicle.
The same way, when you’re living in an urban area but use your lawn mower in your backyard to cut grass, it’s not a motor vehicle. But if you go out of your backyard and drive it around the area, it’s a motor vehicle.
So, is a lawn mower a motor vehicle? Yes, and no.
Can You Drive Your Lawn Mower in Your Backyard?
You can drive a lawn mower to mow your backyard’s lawn. Your state determines the maximum length of the grass in your backyard.
In fact, you’re required by law to mow your lawn. If you don’t, the authorities in your area will assign a lawn mower to mow your lawn and send you the bill.
However, when your backyard is small, you don’t need a ride-on lawn mower. In that case, you can use a walk-behind power lawn mower instead.
You only need to drive a lawn mower when you have a colossal lawn, and a lawn tractor for massive farms.
You can also use a zero-turn radius mower in your backyard. It’s a type of lawn mower that can rotate 180 degrees and move on sloppy areas.
Some Safety Do’s and Don’ts When Driving Your Lawn Mower in Your Backyard
- Do keep children inside when you’re mowing your lawn and shut off the operation when they enter the backyard.
- Don’t use the lawn mower if you’re not an adult.
- Do be familiar with the lawn mower instruction manual.
- Do remove toys, wires, rocks from your backyard before mowing.
- Don’t have passengers, especially children.
- Don’t mow in reverse.
- Don’t leave a running lawn mower unattended.
- Don’t mow at night.
- Do wear protection gear.
- Don’t mow while the grass is wet or when it’s raining.
- Do move up and down slopes.
- Don’t move across slopes.
- Don’t smoke while mowing.
- Do inspect the lawn mower before starting the operation.
- Do be careful when cleaning the mower’s blades.
You shouldn’t drive your lawn mower in your backyard while intoxicated, sick, or not feeling right as lawn mower accidents are lethal.
You don’t need to license a private-use lawn mower. Only hire licensed and insured landscaping services if you must.
Can You Drive Your Riding Lawn Mower on the Road?
Yes, you can drive your riding lawn mower on the road, but it’s not safe. Lawn mowers have blades and aren’t stable on asphalt. To stay safe, avoid driving your lawn mower on the road.
A modern lawn tractor may be safer to use on the road, but you might need to license for driving it around town.
You should also consider whether or not your ride-on lawn mower is street-legal. 99% of lawn mowers aren’t street legal unless they’re large lawn tractors. In that case, you may want to limit your driving within rural areas.
Without a doubt, driving a lawn mower on highways is illegal in most states, under most conditions.
Lawn mowers are designed for cutting grass, not driving on the road. Even a modern, sophisticated lawn mower is still made to take care of your lawn.
If you want a lawn mower that you can use to drive, consider a lawn tractor.
Furthermore, you can’t drive your lawn mower on the sidewalk. In essence, driving your lawn mower anywhere outside your backyard will most likely lead to trespassing charges, impounding your lawn mower, and hefty fines.
TIP: Driving Your Lawn Mower for Fun
Driving a lawn mower can be fun. If you love driving your it and can’t get enough of it, consider customizing it into a racing cart.
Customized race lawn mowers are ride-on or self-propelled lawn mowers with blades removed. Lawn mower racing is a safe, fun motorsport for adults and children. It’s a safe way to enjoy driving your lawn mower without receiving fines, tickets, or lawsuits.
Visit the United States Lawn Mower Racing Association’s website to find a local chapter.
Whatever you do, there’s no compelling reason to jeopardize your life by driving your lawn mower on the road.
Can You Drive Your Lawn Mower to the Gas Station?
Like driving your lawn mower on the road, driving to the gas station is possible, but there are some restrictions.
First of all, if you have a gas-powered lawn mower, that means it might be street-legal. It also means it should be licensed. You can’t drive your lawn mower to the gas station when it’s not built for the road. And if you didn’t license it, it means you can’t drive it to the gas station. (see the motor vehicle vs. not vehicle argument mentioned above).
Since most lawn mowers are not street-legal, you can’t drive one to the gas station.
Indeed, any vehicle that uses the streets must meet specific safety specifications to protect you and others. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the legal jungle and end up in jail.
Is Your Lawn Mower Licensed?
If yes, you can drive it anywhere the license allows you to. If not, you can’t drive your lawn mower on the street nor to the gas station.
A license is permission from the government to drive your lawn mower to the gas station. The local government grants the authorization based on the safety of the lawn mower to the people on the road.
In general, keep your lawn mower within your backyard. If you must use it around town, try to find an alternative.
With that in mind, your next question might be: How do I gas up my lawn mower if I can’t drive it to the gas station? The answer is, just tow it.
Know in advance which type of gas is best for your lawn mower. If it’s small enough to load on a pickup truck, do it. If it’s large, tow it with a van.
Otherwise, you can drive your car to the gas station and buy gas containers, or take your tightly sealed gas containers and load them up at the gas station.
Overall, don’t drive your lawn mower outside your backyard or farm. It’s a piece of equipment, not a car.
Be smart. Be safe. Only drive your lawn mower on your lawn.
Get the Right Lawn Mower
Is a ride-on lawn mower necessary?
If not, consider a type of lawn mower that fits your needs. Consider the size of your backyard. If it’s not large enough for a ride-on lawn mower, maybe a walk-behind lawn mower will do.
You can even get yourself a robotic lawn mower that does the job on auto-pilot.
In the end, it depends on your needs, budget, and backyard.
All in all, you’ll need to license your lawn mower when it’s a new model that’s more of a tractor than farming equipment.
Finally, keep in mind to only drive your lawn mower inside your backyard, and avoid going off-limits.