Safe Operation of Tractors while Mowing along Roadways

By: Dewey Mann - Research Associate-

“A 44-year-old farm owner was killed when the tractor he was driving overturned while using a rotary mower attached to a Ford 600 tractor. The farmer was mowing an area along the gravel road leading to his home in a very remote area. The tractor…was not equipped with a Roll Over Protective Structure (ROPS) or a seatbelt. The tractor's right front wheel went over the edge of the embankment, causing the tractor to overturn and come to rest on top of the victim in the center of the road. A neighbor discovered him about a half hour later and called emergency medical services (FACE 98KY077).”

With more than adequate rainfall this summer, the grass and weeds will likely be more resilient than normal. To keep field edges looking nice and increase visibility along public roadways, farmers and highway crews will be mowing road ditches. With excess water in the ditches, extra caution should be used when mowing these areas.

Here are some tips for increasing safety when mowing along roadways:

  • Operators should ALWAYS wear a seatbelt when on tractors equipped with Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) or a cab
  • Older tractors should be retrofitted with ROPS and seatbelts, and are not the best choice for mowing along road ditches
  • Use tractors with a wide wheel base; addition of dual wheels can increase the stability
  • Remove frontend attachments, such as loader buckets, or keep in the lowered position
  • Drive forward down slopes, and back up; two-wheel drive tractors are more susceptible to rear overturn when driving up a slope
  • Never carry extra riders
  • If the tractor gets stuck in the mud, take your time and get additional assistance to remove the tractor

When removing a stuck tractor from the mud, never attach logs, boards, or posts to tires. Use a large chain or cable tied to another tractor/large vehicle, attached as low as possible on the stuck tractor to avoid an overturn, have bystanders leave the area, and slowly try to remove the tractor.

While the focus of this article is on agricultural tractors, the same principles apply to riding lawn mowers. Never carry passengers, use caution on slick road banks, keep the ROPS in the upright position and wear a seatbelt at all times.

Videos showing tractor rollovers with and without Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) can be found at:

Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) report retrieved from:

Dewey Mann, research associate for agricultural safety and health, and lecturer for agricultural systems management, can be reached at (614) 292-1952 or