Safety watch: Basic practices of roadside mowing operations

Updated May 19, 2022
Photo: colchestervt.govPhoto:

As more cities turn to landscaping companies to maintain their roadways, it is important to conduct the job with safety in mind.

The main goal of vegetation control along roadsides is to improve visibility of signs, pedestrians and other road users. Because the roadside mowing operation takes place both on and off the roadway, it is crucial for your crews to be highly visible to drivers as well.

There are three general types of roadside mowing. Safety mowing is the most important and ensures that all signs and traffic control devices are visible.

Transition mowing makes a smooth change from a narrow mowed width to a wide mowed width when different widths of right-of-way are mowed. Contour or selective mowing is saved for showing off landscaping or wildflowers and makes a natural blending of the roadside with native or planted growth.

To help notify drivers that a mowing operation is on-going, warning signs such as MOWING AHEAD or ROAD WORK AHEAD should be place a mile or two before the actual mowing work. Mount the signs on a sturdy portable support that won’t be knocked over easily. Move the sign as the work progresses.

Use rotating yellow beacons on mower tractors and yellow flasher lights on roll bars. Mower tractors should have slow-moving-vehicle signs installed and orange flags or pennants on a whip to show the location of the tractor in high grass or over the edge of slopes. The headlights should be on at all times.

Here are some of the basic do’s and don’ts when it comes to roadside mowing.


  • Visually inspect the area before mowing. Check for washouts and debris that could be thrown.
  • Mow in the direction of oncoming traffic. It results in less impact if a missile is thrown out and also provides better visibility.
  • Be sure the mower has a roll-over protection structure (ROPS) and wear the seat belt at all times.
  • Ballast or weight the tractor, especially when mowing on a hillside or using a boom mower.
  • Cover all V-belts, drive chains and power takeoff shafts.
  • Refuel away from waterways.
  • Wear protective equipment including safety glasses, a hard hat and reflective clothing.


  • Mow too often. This exposes the crews to traffic hazards more than necessary and can damage the vegetation.
  • Mow at the wrong time. Cutting at the right stage of growth reduces the frequency mowing is needed.
  • Mow too short. The proper height helps maintain vegetation and can hide small litter objects as well.
  • Mow steep slopes unless needed. Steep slopes increase the risk of mower accidents.
  • Mow carelessly and scar trees and shrubs. Operators should strip grass from around the tree in a circle to avoid wounding it.

For more information on roadside mowing practices, VISTA Training offers an instructor kit that comes with a pre-planning checklist, a mower safety DVD, printable handouts, a written exam and operator evaluation sheets. Click here to see more about the kit.

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