Activate Your Premium Membership Today >

Diesel and oil spills endanger riders

Only dopes ride high! marijuana Diesel spill transport department NSW roads traffic motorcycles spills friday 13th unlicensed

Diesel and oil spills on our roads most endanger motorcyclists, yet there seems no approved national procedure for reporting or fixing them.

Two recent major diesel spills in South East Queensland occurred on two very popular motorcycle roads.

The first was caused by a broken-down truck on the northern approach to Tamborine Mountain near the famed Rock Piano graffiti and the second was on a hairpin on the Samford side of the Mt Mee Rd.

Diesel spill transport department NSW roads traffic motorcycles spills
Mt Tamborine spill

Transport and Main Roads says they were made aware of a spill on Tamborine Mountain which was cleaned up by emergency services “so no further action was taken”.

“We have not received reports of a spill on Mt Mee Road north of the outlook.”

Like most states, TMR relies on fire and emergency rescue to clear up minor spills. They only deal with major spills and usually via a contractor.

Dangers of oil and diesel spills

An Austroads 2015 Motorcycle In-Depth Crash Study report found that a slippery road surface accounted for 13% of single-vehicle crashes.

“There is a need to find enhanced methods for preventing and/or mitigating oil/diesel spills to better reduce the risk to motorcyclists,” it found.

Despite spills causing just 0.12% of all crashes in the UK, a 2010 Transport Research Laboratory study of spills found they were a “legitimate concern” for motorcyclists.

It estimated the value of prevention motorcycle crashes caused by oil and diesel spills was about $30m in the UK in 2008.Diesel spill transport department NSW roads traffic motorcycles spills

Ride to the conditions

We all know that we should ride to the conditions, but you never know where an oil or diesel spill will occur and they can be difficult to spot.

Diesel spills are particularly difficult to see, but if the light is right, you may see a rainbow or a dark patch.

Usually the first sign of a diesel spell is the distinctive smell. By then, it may be too late as you are in the spill and hitting the brakes could lead to a crash.

Try to roll through with smooth steering and without any throttle or brake.

Spills can be caused by motorists overfilling the full tanks of diesel cars and trucks, not putting the filler cap back on properly, failed spill devices on trucks, old vehicles leaking oil and diesel, breakdowns and crashes.Diesel spill transport department NSW roads traffic motorcycles spills

How to report a spill

If you identify a spill, you should report it immediately to the local council, or the state transport department if it is a state-controlled road.

If you have mobile phone signal, go to the local or state authority’s website and look for a hotline or 24-hour line for reporting road damage.

Otherwise, file these away in your contacts: Queensland 131 940; NSW 131 700; Victoria 131 170; Tasmania 1300 139 933; South Australia 1800 018 313; Western Australia 138 138; and NT 1800 246 199. We couldn’t find a number for the ACT, but you can lodge a report online here.

If possible, stay at the site to warn other riders and motorists until the authorities arrive.

The AustRoads report recommends methods for reducing response times to emergency clean-ups and suggested the public should “respond quickly and call emergency services when debris, including oil/diesel is observed on the roadway”.

Diesel spill transport department NSW roads traffic motorcycles spills

A NSW report, titled “Making roads more motorcycle friendly”, says “any diesel or oil spills need to be cleaned up immediately and appropriate warning signs used”.

Despite this rhetoric, response to spills by authorities in Australia seems dreadfully slow, especially on weekends when most motorcyclists are riding.

But it’s in the interests of authorities to fix spills quickly, not just to avoid litigation from crash victims, but to preserve their expensive road infrastructure!

Diesel spills degrade the asphalt surface and can cause potholes over time.

So it’s a long-term cost-saving for authorities to fix them quickly.

Be aware that oil and diesel spills on the road can take more than 100 days to completely dissipate and they can resurface during rain, so steer clear for some weeks if there has been a spill.

Most state transport department websites will have a list of spill zones to avoid.

How to fix oil and diesel spills

The 2015 AustRoads report does not recommend best practices for cleaning up an oil or diesel spill.

Consequently, authorities in each locale use different treatments.

The traditional and cheapest method is sand which can cause motorcycles to slip and crash if not cleaned up properly.

It also doesn’t absorb very well and is not suitable when it is raining.

Diesel spill transport department NSW roads traffic motorcycles spills
Look ahead for hazards such as spills

Other absorbent materials have been used such as wood chips, hay, sawdust, cork, dried corn, wool, recycled newspaper and even old telephone books!

Chemical absorbents include polyurethane, polyethylene and polypropylene which react quickly but can be environmentally unsound.

The most common used in Australia is simply called “kitty litter” and combines several of the above ingredients.

There are also surface washing agents and degreasers which are quick and don’t affect the environment.

The US EPA has also used enzyme additives that speed up biodegradation of oil and diesel, but they are expensive, slow and only work in certain climates.

Some of the interesting names for oil and diesel clean-up materials on the market include Pig Peat, Rubberizer, C.I.Agent, Oil-Dri, Green Stuff, Sphag Sorb, Spill Hound, Biozorb, and Australian product KleenSweep.

The most suitable fix is to quickly apply absorbent material followed by vigorous sweeping with a stiff brush until the diesel or oil is removed.

The used absorbent is then removed and the area inspected. Reapplication may be necessary as dried diesel and oil can become slippery again if it rains.

  1. G’day,
    I suffered an oil spill a few years ago on my way to HART. The irony hasn’t escaped me. At c0624 one July morning through a roundabout in Blacktown I found my self in a riding position but horizontal. The saving grace was that an Ambo on his way to work was three cars behind me. He, [name is Frosty] and an unknown bikie lifted me and carried me to the footpath. The next sounds I heard were fire, ambo & police. Lights & noise I was so grateful to hear. The ambient temperature was about 4.5 ºC and about 1 ºC more at Blacktown Hospital.

  2. I’m a newbie rider and one of the first things my experienced brother-in-law said to me was “keep the bike as upright as possible through roundabouts”. Sounds like very good advice now!

  3. this doesn’t mention another cause. Braindead hoons purposely pouring diesel on roads (particularly around Mt. Glorious) to create heaps of smoke and smell when they’re doing their burnouts. I know of two accidents there directly attributed to that practice.

  4. I think you mean, keep a steady, neutral throttle, not no throttle.

    Chopping the throttle, or anything which might unsettle the bike, is going to make it worse.

  5. It’s not only oil spills you have to look out for, matted leaves and bits of small tree branches dead animals and even a flattened out can at the wrong spot can send you on a slide.

  6. Sunflower seed via road transport also spills, leaves residue and accumulates at round a bouts. Bakes in our hot sun on the bitumen, and can make for an unexpected, but disastrous low slide.

  7. Qld transport & Brisbane city council spread slippery white paint all over the roads, & we’re paying them to do it. No wonder our rates are so high.
    Look at all those huge white arrows they put on the road halfway round a corner, perfectly placed to cause a motorcycle accident in the wet.

    Non-slip white road paint has been available since before I was born but they refuse to use it.

  8. Deja Vu stories & a nightmare to boot. Flick back a decade, location the Tivoli (Ipswich, Qld) multiple entry roundabout, entering from Ipswich side, over the Warrigo Hwy bridge, heading nor-east. There’s a wholesale diesel reseller by the name of Beaumont Transport, off one of the exits. Heading into the roundabout, unable to see through the damn thang, & at about 55 -60 kpm was confronted with a massive diesel spill, loose fuel caps off a dodgy truck/s no doubt, so nowhere to go, no option but to lay the m/c down or risk a head on with oncoming traffic. (30 years of Aikido may have saved more broken bones) Three cracked ribs, the usual R.H. scaphoid break, cut’s & bruises & a $3000 repair bill later I recall fronting the Beaumont managers some days later only to be told they weren’t responsible.
    To make matters worse, a plain clothes, unmarked highway patrol officer attended within minutes of me hitting the tarmac … reckoned the get-off looked spectacular from behind but did not leave a name or card & when the matter was reported there was no log of the police vehicle or the officer being in the area at that time. Many thanks to the produce store owner over the bridge for assisting … no thanks to all the punters who drove by laughing, while I adrenaline pushed the bike, 1200cc of dead weight, a few hundred meters out of the traffic flow. Go figure.

  9. In Canberra after the clean up (if any), they pin a yellow sign on a nearby pole that says “oil on road”. It’s a good reminder for caution next time it rains.

  10. Mark, an even bigger problem in hilly country areas is the spillage from cattle trucks. An example is the Gibraltar Range, west of Grafton NSW. It’s not unusual to see some corners covered in brown, slippery ‘slop’. This is just as dangerous as a fuel spill but is happening with far more regularity on some roads. Can you please look at this as a safety issue for country roads?

    1. Hi David,
      Yes, I know. I’ve followed a pig truck across the NSW/Qd border and nearly lost it several times … plus it took ages to get the smell out of my gear!

      1. We manufacture the product Spill Hound in the UK. It is a fully sustainable, fully recyclable product and it works in seconds. Every Highways Agency traffic vehicle across north and mid Wales carries Spill Hound.
        you can see it in action at

Comments are closed.