A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Spring has arrived, the yard needs mowing — but grass clippings can be dangerous

Yes, it’s almost springtime again, and like bears coming out of hibernation, motorcyclists can now be found crisscrossing our streets and roadways as riders are out enjoying the warmer weather and freedom that a bike provides.

It’s also that time of year again where many of us homeowners are gassing up our lawn mowers and rushing out to mow down those pesky dandelions that are popping up in our yards. Many homeowners and landowners will not give much thought as to the direction in which they blow their grass clippings and will be discharging the clippings out into the street.

But did you know that intentionally blowing grass clippings from your mowed lawn into the street could be dangerous to others, illegal and could cost you fines and even a lawsuit?

Local ordinances are put in place because grass clippings clog up storm drains, causing drainage and flooding issues.

It’s a fact intentionally blowing or leaving grass clippings on the street is illegal in many municipalities. Many local municipalities & local governments in Kentucky and across the nation have ordinance on the books that if violators are caught, they could face a verbal warning or a citation and a fine ranging from $50 to $2,500.

Grass clippings are not considered litter because they are an agricultural byproduct that is nontoxic and biodegradable, but these local ordinances are put in place because grass clippings clog up the storm drains and cause drainage and flooding issues. Many storm water ordinances state that grass clippings are considered an illicit discharge if they have a direct route to a stream or creek.

For those of you that are environmentally friendly, it’s important to know that when grass clippings reach our waterways, there may be some harmful effects to the water. The waste adds excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, leading to uncontrolled growth of algae and invasive aquatic weeds.

Most homeowners and landowners will not give much thought as to the risks that they could be causing others in the process. As a former motorcycle enthusiast, let me inform you that grass clippings are a public safety hazard to both a motorcyclist and bicyclist.

Freshly cut grass is slippery and can cause a motorcyclist or bicyclist to lose traction and crash. Some motorcyclists that have happened upon freshly cut grass clippings unexpectedly have described it as like riding on ice rink.

Engineers have calculated that the coefficient of friction of fresh grass clippings is almost as slick as grease. So while you still may not be in violation of a law in your community or rural home, you still may be liable for injuries and damages caused by your grass clippings.

If your actions cause a motorcyclist to lose control and to wreck, even if the rider wasn’t physically harmed, you could be on the hook to replace a totaled motorcycle, which today can cost upwards of mid-$30k.

Did you know that intentionally blowing grass clippings from your mowed lawn into the street could be dangerous to others, illegal and could cost you fines and even a lawsuit?

Such incidents do occur with a degree of frequency and lawsuits have been filed against homeowners and landowners. Just recently in 2015 a lawsuit filed in Plainfield, Ill., by a woman passenger on a motorcycle claims the motorcyclist lost control after they hit a patch of grass clippings blown into the street by a homeowner. The passenger sued the homeowner for negligence. The suit accused the homeowners of dumping the grass in the street and causing an “unreasonably dangerous condition that involved an unreasonable risk of harm to those on the roadway.”

As a homeowner or landowner, the best way to avoid costly lawsuits and homeowners insurance premiums to increase is to discharge back towards your property instead of the street. In fact the best way to dispose of the clippings is to use mulching blades on the mower. They have a special shape that shreds the grass after cutting and deposits it on the lawn.

Not only does this eliminate the discharge blowing out on the side, it also adds valuable nutrients back to the soil. If used regularly, before the grass gets too high, there are no clumps or ridges.

This saves you, the homeowner, in fertilizer, possible municipality fines and, more importantly, eliminates the hazard to fellow citizens.

Be Safe My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services and is an expert witness. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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One Comment

  1. Bill says:

    I think it’s weird you posted a photo of a state maintained median regarding grass clippings being illegal in the road. Perhaps someone should tell the state?

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