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Project Lab: A $40 riding-lawnmower hack that could save your kid’s life

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Warning: This post is about preventing one of the worst accidents a parent could imagine.


It’s a sunny Saturday morning. You have lots to do. Mowing the lawn is first on the list. If you’re fast enough, maybe you can beat the coming rain, get the grass cut and move on to your other to-dos. Lucky for you, your significant other volunteered to take the kids grocery shopping so you can focus on the task at hand.

Because you’re in such a hurry, you have deactivated your riding lawnmower’s backup-safety mode. Normally, the blades stop spinning when you go in reverse. But by disabling that feature, you can mow faster, since you don’t have to stop and start the blades all the time when mowing around obstacles like trees or making tight turns. Things are going well.

Then, as you back up to take another pass at the tree next to your driveway, your tire goes over a bump, and your life changes forever.

In your haste, you forgot to look behind you when backing up. Unbeknownst to you, your significant other also forgot something and came back home before heading to the store. One of your kids jumped out of the car and ran up to you on the mower to say hi, forgetting that they know not to do this. Now, below the deck lies your child, trapped under your lawnmower’s spinning blades.

Dozens of painful surgeries lay ahead — if your child survives.

Reverse view

Riding-lawnmower backup accidents killed or maimed more than 1,500 kids from 1994 to 2014, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

I’m not trying to fear monger here. This type of thing happens. Riding-lawnmower backup accidents killed or maimed more than 1,500 kids from 1994 to 2014, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. There is no shortage of new reports on such accidents across the U.S.

In fact, nearly that exact scenario above happened to one Iowa father in 2017. The main difference is that when he accidentally backed over his 3-year-old boy, he was looking behind him. He was looking over his right shoulder, but when his boy came running up to see him, he was coming from the left side. And you’ll find plenty more firsthand stories from the survivors of such tragedies at the Lawn Mower Accident Support and Prevention group on Facebook.

These stats and stories made me wonder: What if we had backup cameras on our riding lawnmowers?

The monitor

The camera provides a 120 degree view of the scene behind the lawnmower.

Today’s aftermarket backup cameras are cheap. Amazon sells one such camera-and-monitor kit for $40. They’re also easy to install. If you have a 12-volt port (aka a cigarette lighter port) on your mower, it’s virtually a plug-and-play affair. If you don’t, it’s not hard to add one. But even if you’re too intimidated to try, the process is simple enough that most mower shops should be willing to install the whole setup for you.

You can see my own experience with the installation process in the video above. All the parts are available on Amazon. So far, it has worked wonderfully. Now I can keep an eye on what’s going on behind me at all times, not just when I turn around.

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Battery hook up

The camera connects to a 12-volt cigarette-lighter-style electric socket. If you don't have one, they are easy enough to install by hooking a kit up to the battery.

No, a lawnmower backup camera won’t magically prevent all accidents. We still have to be careful and look behind ourselves when reversing. Remember that powered lawnmowers are basically machete-spinning robots, and the riding versions just add speed to the equation.

But I’d gladly give up the time and money I spent on this again for the chance to prevent such an accident. It’s one thing to injure ourselves when doing work. We all accept a certain amount of risk when doing projects, whether that involves climbing a ladder or ripping a board on a table saw. But harm coming to children is a different kind of horror. It’s well documented that when kids experience trauma, whether from physical injury or mental abuse, it has a lasting effect on their entire lives. These ripples are bad for the kid, bad for surviving family members, and bad for society.

Not to be an old grump here, but it already feels like enough of a waste to be burning all this gas and time to just repeatedly cut the grass over and over again like Sisyphus for the rest of eternity. I certainly don’t want to sacrifice my own 3-year-old’s future, too.

The camera

I’d gladly give up the time and money I spent on this again for the chance to prevent one of these tragedies.

Wisconsinite Andy Reuter writes and shoots video about whatever DIY project is holding his attention at the time. For more, follow him on Instagram, find him on Twitter, or subscribe to his channel on YouTube.

Supplies used in this video

(FYI that these are Amazon Affiliate links, so if you buy anything through them, it will help support this work.)

Gaffer tape (Works great, but not cheap. Can use duct tape instead)

3M VHB tape. (Very strong stuff, be careful with it. Best to test with a weaker tape first, then use VHB for final install.)

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