Not too long ago, motorcyclist Trevor J Gawne dropped by at a Shell service station to get some fuel. As usual, he pulled up next to the pump, grabbed the nozzle without getting off the bike, flipped open the fuel cap, stuck the nozzle in the hole and pulled the trigger. No go.

So he waved the pump nozzle at the attendant in the service station booth who was looking out at him. But when he pulled the nozzle trigger again, still nothing happened.

Eventually, the attendant got out from behind his desk, came to the door, and called out "Ya have to get off ya bike" Trevor was miffed. At 12.00 at night, he didn't feel he needed to be told to get off his bike to fill his bike. But he did, anyway, and when he went to pay for the fuel he had a few words with the attendant.

It turned out that the fuel company had implemented a new policy that motorcyclists cannot refill their bike while sitting on it, citing the fact that spilt petrol may be ignited by a hot engine.

Trevor was surprised by this. After all, as he pointed out, one wasn't much farther away from one's bike if one was standing beside it when filling it. Anyway, he said in true enthusiast fashion, if his pride and joy did go up in a ball of fire then he would want to go with it.

It's an interesting point. What is the danger of the bike exploding if the fuel ignites?

Well, firstly, it would most likely not be the fuel that exploded but the fuel vapour, and that would explode in a tremendously hot flash fire. In this event, if the rider has all skin covered and is wearing leathers, gloves etc and doesn't breath the flame in and sear his/her lungs, no real harm would be done. But it's likely the rider will not be wearing gloves and will have the helmet visor up, leaving skin to be severely burnt in the flash fire.

The second danger is that, if the rider is sitting on the bike, it is unlikely to be on a stand, either sidestand or main stand. Thus, if the rider is sitting on the bike, he then cannot escape the fire without dropping the bike. And when the rider drops the bike trying to escape fuel will spill fuel all over the service station. This fuel will probably also ignite, causing a massive fire that will endanger the lives of many other people.

Even if the side stand is down to remove the danger of spilt fuel as the bike goes down, if the rider is sitting on the bike as he refuels it, the potential for injury to the rider is far greater as it will take longer for him to dismount and escape than if he was standing next to the machine.

The fuel company's rules apparently came about because such a fire occurred - a rider was badly burnt around the groin area when fuel overflowed from the tank and ignited while he was sitting on his bike refuelling it.

Taking the above into account, it's obvious that the wisest course of action is to dismount whilst refuelling. It doesn't take much, and even if you don't do it for your own sake, the safety of others is at stake.

Also, if your action of sitting on a bike to refuel it cause death and/or damage and/or injury to others or to someone else's property, then YOU must defend yourself against a negligence claim. While a negligence claim is a civil case and not a criminal one, it will still cost you an arm and a leg to defend yourself, it will bring interminable stress to your life, and you may have to sell your bike to pay for the defence.

In such a case the first question in a legal test would probably be "Would a reasonable person have foreseen the possibility of death/injury/property damage from igniting fuel?" Almost every Judge would answer that with the affirmative.

The next questions would then be "What reasonable action would a reasonable person take to minimise the risk of the ignition of fuel" and "What reasonable actions would said person take to minimise death/injury/damage should their action of refuelling cause a fuel fire".

The judge would have to decide the answer to these questions based on argument put forward by expensive legal representatives.

However, a reasonable answer would surely be that, given that a reasonable person would have knowledge the danger of a fuel fire they would

1: Follow any safety instructions/directions given by signs (i,e. "Do Not Smoke", "Turn off ignition")
2: Follow the safety instruction of the service station attendants and other experts and or reasonable person.
3: Undertake any reasonable action that a reasonable person would do under the circumstances (such as not pouring fuel on to a hot object and taking reasonable care that fuel does not make its way by omission of action on to a hot object)

In other words, if you fill your bike while sitting on it and a large fire results, you could be in major trouble!

Another safety aspect of filling your bike while sitting on it, other than the fire problem, is a more, er, male one.

Allan Kirk of the NZMSC once let the tank overflow as he sat on the bike filling it. Girlfriend was on the back.

The petrol sloshed down the tank ridge and onto his trousers - he rode in jeans in those days - and when it met his testicles there was a very painful time had (a) by him and (b) by his girlfriend who thought all her recreation that evening was in dire jeopardy.

He says that, since then, he has always filled the tank standing beside the bike...

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