Signs at gas stations across the country warn, “Don’t use a cell phone while refueling gas” or “Turn off cell phone,” but is there a real danger to talking or texting on your phone while refueling gas? Can it cause an explosion?
“The risk is very, very low,” National Fire Protection Association staffer Michael Marando told USA TODAY.
Marando said he doesn’t know when the warnings started appearing or why they started, but the consensus reasoning was that a cell phone had enough energy to create a spark, and when mixed with flammable gasoline it could start a fire. , resulting in serious, even life-threatening injuries.
Researchers tested the theory numerous times to see if the urban legend was a fact. It never worked.
“Until now, we have not been able to document any incidents caused by a mobile phone. In fact, many researchers have tried to ignite fuel vapors with a mobile phone, but have been unsuccessful,” the Petroleum Equipment Institute said, citing multiple studies. . The show “Mythbusters” even tried it once, to no avail, and the Federal Trade Commission also denounced the theory.
While experiments haven’t ignited a spark, Marando said it’s still somewhat possible.
“To say there’s no risk, I can’t really do that because there could be a one in a few billion chance that it could potentially happen,” he said. “There are just too many factors to make it extraordinarily rare.”
The real concern of using your phone while pumping gas
Marando said the main reason people shouldn’t use their phones while refueling — and why signs might still exist — is because, like when driving, it’s a distraction. The biggest concern is if the pump is not properly placed in the car or if gasoline is spilling out.
“We’re all getting a little complacent about the dangers that could be there because we’re so used to going to the gas station. It’s really about getting the people at the gas station to pay attention to filling up, rather than talking on the cell phone,” he said.
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Sitting in the car near the pump can cause an explosion
An often overlooked warning that has proven to cause gas explosions: Do not sit in your car while the gas is pumping.
“If you get in the vehicle and then sit in your seat, and then come out of the vehicle again to touch the gas nozzle, you could create a static charge on you. And that static charge could lead to a spark that could cause inflammation,” Marando said.
The message is echoed in a report published by the NFPA in August 2021, which revealed some incidents where static electricity caused an explosion at the gas pump. The Petroleum Equipment Institute also has a “Stop Static Campaign” to raise awareness about the dangers.
Char Carstensen, who used to run a gas station that suffered serious damage from a fire caused by static electricity, told the Bonner County Daily Bee in 2018 if you do get back in your car, touch the metal of the car before touching the nozzle again. . Some gas stations also have warnings to touch metal before touching the mouthpiece again.
If a fire is caused by static electricity, the American Petroleum Institute says people should leave the washer in, away from the vehicle and warn the gas station attendant.
More of what not to do when pumping gas
Here’s a list of things not to do while refueling, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
- Do not run the engine, as the hot engine mixed with gas vapors can cause an explosion.
- Do not smoke. Gas vapors that you cannot see can be ignited.
- Do not add gas to your tank as this could result in a gas spill.
- Do not fill gas in plastic bags. It’s not a safe place to store it.
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