Is It Illegal to Mow Grass Into the Road in Tennessee?

Seeing your neighbor mow their grass into the road can be a supremely frustrating experience. There has to be a way to stop them, right? Or, perhaps you are the one getting side-eye from neighbors and wondering if they can do anything. Regardless of which side of the equation you are on, the common question is whether it is illegal to mow grass into the road in Tennessee.

State laws in Tennessee do not specifically criminalize mowing grass into roads. They do however prohibit littering. Grass mowed into the street can be penalized under the littering statute.

Some Tennessee cities, like Hendersonville, have local ordinances that make it illegal to blow grass into the road. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your city’s ordinances. 

Mowing grass into the street is not just an eyesore and inconsiderate to neighbors. It is dangerous to motorcyclists and those riding bikes. Additionally, mowing grass into the street poses environmental risks as well. Read on to learn more about the legality of mowing grass into the road in Tennessee.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state if you have questions or believe you have a legal situation.

Safety Concerns Regarding Grass in the Road

Most of us probably most think of grass in the road as an eyesore or a mess rather than a safety issue. It is much more than that for people who drive motorcycles and bicycles along those roads. 

Patches of loose grass on the road can cause the tires on motorcycles or bicycles to lose traction. This can cause an accident, especially at higher speeds.

A cyclist’s encounter with grass clippings can cause danger to others on the road. They may  have to swerve, unexpectedly change lanes, or suddenly brake to manage or avoid the clippings.

The grass clippings also pose risk by obscuring other road hazards that impact cyclists, like potholes or other road damage. 

Environmental Concerns About Grass in the Road

In addition to being a physical safety hazard, grass clippings in the road pose some serious environmental problems. These concerns give cities and states even more reason to get involved in the oversight of grass mowed into roads.

First, grass clippings can clog and block storm sewers and other drainage systems. It is not hard to imagine this happening if you have seen a neighbor mow huge clumps into the street.

While one person’s yard may not create a problem, if everyone did this, it would be a huge problem. Blocked storm sewers create slow or no draining after rain.

This poor or nonexistent drainage can cause flooding. Even worse, it can cause the standing water to be unsanitary and unsafe. 

Having yards and mowing them have been a part of American culture for so long now. It is easy to forget how unnatural it actually is and how our clippings can negatively impact the environment. 

Grass clippings are very high in nitrogen. When they enter the water stream, they cause a decrease of oxygen in the water. 

This decrease of oxygen can kill aquatic life, like fish and good water vegetation. It can increase the presence of dangerous aquatic life like toxic algae blooms

Toxic algae blooms, like blue-green algae, can be fatal to animals, including domestic pets like dogs. 

Mow Grass Into the Road in Tennessee

Legal Restrictions About Mowing Grass into the Road

In Tennessee, there are no laws specific to grass clippings being mowed into the road. Tennessee law does address littering in general, and this is the area of law most applicable to this issue. 

All states, including Tennessee, have a criminal penalty structure in place to address littering. Littering is a huge problem on multiple levels. 

Besides being an eye store, littering creates danger for wildlife that may consume or be trapped by the litter. As a result, states have laws that define and create punishments for littering.

Tennessee State Laws

The Tennessee statute regarding littering can be found at T.C.A 39-14-5. Here is how it law defines littering:

(1) Knowingly places, drops or throws litter on any public or private property without permission and does not immediately remove it; 

(2) Negligently places or throws glass or other dangerous substances on or adjacent to water to which the public has access for swimming or wading, or on or within fifty feet (50′) of a public highway; or 

(3) Negligently discharges sewage, minerals, oil products or litter into any public waters or lakes within this state.

And this is how litter and rubbish are defined:

“Litter” includes garbage, refuse, rubbish and all other waste material, including a tobacco product.

“Rubbish” includes nonputrescible solid waste consisting of both combustible and non-combustible waste.

The general consensus is that grass clippings almost certainly fall into either rubbish or litter. And by mowing grass into the street, someone is knowing placing litter on public property.

If the clippings enter the water stream, that could trigger additional provisions of the Tennessee littering laws. 

Local Ordinances

In Tennessee, towns and cities can make additional rules, called ordinances, that apply within the city limits. Some towns in Tennessee, like Hendersonville, have enacted ordinances regarding grass clippings.

The local citation amount is $50 plus court costs. Ultimately, this serves as both a deterrent and a way for the city to recoup clean-up costs.

Cities have tight personnel budgets in the best of times. They do not have funds to go around town and clean up everyone’s yard clippings.

Yet, that is exactly what they have to do in some places to avoid damage to the storm drainage system. This is particularly frustrating when professional yard maintenance companies are the ones doing the damage. 

Possible Consequences to Mowing Grass into the Road

When discussing consequences for breaking a law, it is important to understand there are two different types of consequences. One is criminal, and the other is civil.

Criminal Penalties

Criminal penalties are what most of us know the most about. It is the possibility of jail or prison time and fines paid to the government.

When you drive down the road, you can see signs warning that the penalty for littering is a certain amount of jail time and a fine. That is a notice of criminal penalty.

If you are caught, you will receive a citation. Much like a traffic ticket, you may have the option to just pay the fine rather than going to court. 

Alternatively, a court appearance may be mandatory. The court will determine the penalty, whether a fine, jail time or both. 

Civil Penalties

The worst case scenario is that your lawn clippings in the road kills someone, or even worse, multiple people. One should not underestimate how dangerous these clippings can be. 

When a person’s actions contribute to the death or injury of another, they can be sued. This is a civil rather than criminal action, and the outcome is a money payment rather than prison time.

So, if someone mows grass into the road and someone has an accident as a result, the injured person may sue the homeowner. They may also sue the garden company, if any, that performed the mowing. 

When people sue for money, they are suing to cover the damages they incurred as the result of someone’s negligence. This means they could be asking for money for medical bills, and much more.

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In personal injury lawsuits, victims also sue for the cost of time off work, pain and suffering, lack of future income, and any other past or future costs they incur.

If the person actually dies, their estate can sue the person at the source of negligence. In addition to actual costs for medical bills and property damage incurred, estates can sue lost income.

This means they can ask the court to award the estate the amount that the deceased person would have earned. This money would then be distributed to the decedent’s heirs.

How to Avoid Grass in the Road

Keeping grass out of the road is pretty easy. Mow in the direction that shoots the clippings inward on your machine. 

If you forget to mow the correct direction, simply blow it back into your yard. 

Better yet, use a machine that mulches or bags the clippings so that they do not blow anywhere. Grass clippings are a great composting component. 

If you hire a professional lawn service, they should be leaving the premises clean as a matter of usual business. If you notice they are leaving clippings in the yard, address it with them.

Even if they do not change their behavior, this may be an important fact in absolving you from negligence if an accident occurs.

Conclusion

Mowing grass into the street is more than just a neighborhood inconvenience; it is dangerous. It brings harm to the environment and can cause road hazards to motorcyclists and bicyclists.

In sum, it is illegal to mow grass into the street in Tennessee thanks to the state’s litter laws. In addition to criminal penalties, a person can also be subject to civil penalties.

If a person mows grass into the road, and someone suffers injury from that, they can pursue money damages. Even if you do not care about how it looks, do care about how it could injure or kill someone. 

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