Saturday 23 March 2019

Oil spills on road: check your vehicle is not to blame

* Our Road Safety Authority expert urges drivers to immediately notify gardai about any spillage so risk to other users is reduced

Danger: Even a small amount of oil on the road can pose a major risk to the safety of all road users
Danger: Even a small amount of oil on the road can pose a major risk to the safety of all road users

Oil spill warnings are a regular feature of traffic bulletins and it is clear that they are a problem in almost every county.

I remember one incident where a major diesel spill in county Limerick stretched for more than 10 kilometres.

A number of years ago we teamed up with the AA to try to get to the bottom of the problem of oil and diesel spills.

We urged the public to report spills in their community.

We then built up a database to establish how big a problem they were on roads and, more importantly, who was responsible so we could take corrective action.

We got lots of information but not much on who, or what, was causing them.

An oil spill can pose a big threat to safety.

In one year alone we recorded 15 major oil and diesel spills which stretched for a combined distance of 129.5km.


In one incident, involving a tanker on the M9/M7 interchange in Co Kildare, it resulted in a major clean-up operation which lasted for two days and caused serious tailbacks.

The typical scenario, however, was a spill that stretched for a few kilometres.

But the culprit was long gone by the time other road users spotted and reported it to gardai.

Sadly the project didn't produce the results we were looking for. Instead it ended up being a classic case of better informed but none the wiser.

If you do witness an oil spill or see one on a road you should report it to the gardai immediately so they can alert the appropriate authorities.

They can then swing into action and clean up the spill, to ensure it doesn't pose a threat to other road users.

Even a small amount of oil on a road surface can spell extreme danger for drivers, particularly motorcyclists and cyclists.

If you do find yourself on a stretch of road that has an oil spill, it is advised to drive at a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

And reduce your speed because braking distance will increase.

Drive with caution and be especially careful if it rains, as oil and water do not mix.

Under such road conditions the risk of skidding increases considerably.

While all vehicle types can potentially be a source of an oil or diesel leak the main causes based on anecdotal evidence appear to be: √ Carelessness in closing fuel caps, particularly on heavy-goods vehicles.

√ Waste oil being carried in poorly sealed barrels on goods vehicles which spill at junctions, particular on turns and on roundabouts.

√ Leaking hydraulic systems/braking systems particularly in agricultural vehicles could also be a source of spills.


Of course road crashes themselves are a source of spills and this happens when oil sumps are ruptured following the impact of a collision.

While the reasons for such spills are mainly due to human error and equipment failure, all are preventable.

So I would urge those involved in the transport and agricultural sectors to be vigilant.

If your vehicle has a leak, get it repaired and do not drive it until the job is completed.

Make sure too that equipment such as fuel caps and hoses are replaced properly.

It is every driver's responsibility to keep the roads' network as safe as possible.

And if you do come across a spill, report it immediately to the gardai and go gently on the road.

Indo Motoring

Also in Life