Everywhere you turn these days, mobile phones are getting a bad rap. Whether that’s distraction, Siri spying on you, TikTok possibly spying on you for the Chinese government, or the potential for brain cancer, it’s all swirling around in the media. But sometimes the dangers of using a mobile phone are overstated.
We’re not telling you to start texting and driving, but we are here to tell you that the reasoning behind some of the situations in which you’ve been told not to use a mobile phone is flawed, case in point, using your phone at a gas station.
While you shouldn’t crank out an email from your driver’s seat, it can be tempting to do so while you’re filling up on fuel. You may have heard, or seen on a fuel pump, that using a phone at a gas pump can cause a fire or an explosion from the static electricity that the phone produces. But is that true?
Car Bibles’ editors have not spent time trying to cause a gas fire to get the answers. We have, however, done the research to put your mind at ease. Let’s get rolling.
Is Using a Mobile Phone While Pumping Gas Dangerous?
Yes, actually, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking of. First off, while it’s technically possible for your cell phone to emit enough static electricity to cause a fire, you’re hardly likely to do so, with the bigger danger being distraction.
Doomscrolling Twitter while filling up your Corolla is far more likely to distract you than it is to cause spontaneous combustion. The National Fire Protection Association states that wireless industry studies have found “no documented incident where the use of a wireless phone was found to cause a fire or explosion at a gas station.”
Later in its document outlining the research, the NFPA states that “on an everyday level, the principal danger is general distraction, which might cause the overfilling of tanks or collision, for example.” The group says that gas stations are busy places with plenty of potential hazards, which can make distractions such as mobile phones more dangerous.
Then Why Do People Believe Phones Will Cause Fires At Gas Stations?
Short answer, because of weird urban legends and a pittance of 8th-grade science knowledge. What am I talking about? I’m talking about static electricity.
Static electricity occurs when there is an imbalance of electrical charge. The charge will remain in place until it is able to move by electrical current or discharge. This is why you sometimes get a shock when sliding in and out of your car seat, as the movement of your clothing on the seat material causes an imbalance in the electrical charge and your finger just happens to be the discharge point.
So What’s the Deal With the Legend?
Rumors tend to have some basis in truth, we all know someone with first-hand experiences with UFOs, bigfoot, or finding a Craigslist ad where the seller puts forth a reasonable price on their ride. This is one, however, isn’t rooted in reality.
The research outlined above, along with the Petroleum Equipment Institute found that, of 176 fire reports it received, over 100 were related to the driver entering or exiting the vehicle. Zero of those reports involved cell phone usage. So, in the case of combustible cell phones at gas pumps, it appears ‘twas an urban legend that ran away with common sense.
Plus, modern fueling stations are equipped with several safety features that both detect and respond to fires, pump failures, and other issues.
The Car Bibles Questionnaire
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!
Q: What about those gas station signs about cell phone usage?
A: Artifacts of misinformation, though again, it’s still technically possible to ignite fuel with static electricity.
Q: Why is gas so flammable?
A: Gasoline is flammable because it has an extremely low flashpoint, which is the temperature required to cause ignition. It also has a high vapor density, which means that liquid gasoline constantly emits vapors that can accumulate and easily ignite.
Q: Is diesel dangerous?
A: Diesel requires sustained pressure or flame to ignite. If you lit a match and threw it into a bucket full of diesel, it would be extinguished, where the same activity with a bucket of gasoline would land you in an NSFW video on the darker edges of Reddit.
Q: What if a gas pump malfunctions?
A: If, by malfunction, you mean “stops working,” then head inside and let the attendant know. You’ll likely be given a credit or the ability to move to another pump. If we’re talking about a fire, get any passengers out of the vehicle and notify the attendant as quickly as possible. They have the ability to activate emergency shutoff systems and fire suppression features.
Video on Mobile Phone Use at Gas Stations
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