8 June 1998

Attack Of The Killer Lawnmowers

Never mind gun control. According to a minatory report by surgeons from the Mayo Clinic, it's not just gangsters and rabid survivalists who have the wherewithal to shoot you dead, but also your trusty lawnmower. A standard 25-inch power blade operating at full speed can, they say, propel a piece of lawn debris with "three times the muzzle energy of a .357 magnum pistol, which can fire a bullet through the engine block of an automobile."

Spelling out their warning in the June issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the authors report on the case of a four-year old boy from Iowa who was "shot" in the stomach. The gun was the family mower, and the ammunition that pierced the boy's intestine and vena canal before lodging in his spine was a piece of chain link that had been lurking in the grass. Luckily, the Mayo Clinic surgeons were able to remove the metal safely, and the boy made a full recovery.

"Power mowers can propel an object at an incredible velocity," says Scott Zietlow, a Mayo Clinic trauma surgeon and one of the authors of the report. "Luckily these objects do lose speed rather quickly." And lest the public start stampeding garden centres for bullet proof vests, projectile injuries are still far rarer than those resulting from direct contact with mower blades.

Nevertheless, the report's authors list a number of safety tips to reduce the chances of being shot down by random fire. Aside from wearing protective eyewear, mowers should stay well out of their machine's "line of fire" - which means standing at least ten yards away (you need to have pretty long arms, presumably). In addition, lawns should be routinely inspected for potentially lethal debris, and a grass catcher should be employed as a first line of defence.

"Carelessness is the usual cause of mower accidents, either by operators or bystanders," says Zeitlow.