We’ve all seen the sign on petrol stations: TURN OFF CELLULAR PHONES: Use of cellular phones during vehicle refuelling or fuel loading may cause fire or explosions and is prohibited at this site.
But can a cell phone really cause fire? Let’s look at what the experts have to say.
Initially, the concern was that radio frequency energy emitted from mobile phones as well as the fact that phone batteries may become dislodged could potentially cause a spark and ignite petrol fumes. However, several studies suggested that there is no such risk. In 1991, Shell UK Oil assessed the risks and concluded that:
…portable cellphones properly used do not represent a meaningful hazard on the retail forecourt. Without doubt, apart from the human acts of smoking and striking a match, the thing that represents the greatest hazard on the retail forecourt is the motorcar!
All incidents that have been attributed to sparks from mobile phones, upon further investigation, turned out to be false. As of this day, according to this report from Petroleum Equipment Institute, there are no documented incidents of pump fires that were sparked by a cellular telephone. However, this research revealed one very important fact – the real cause of petrol station fires:
Fires at refueling sites appear to be static related: In many of the reports we received, the refueler became charged prior to or during the refueling process through friction between clothing and the car seat to such an extent that electrostatic discharges to the vehicle body, fuel cap or dispensing nozzle occurred.
While far from scientific study, even Mythbusters have investigated these claims and concluded that:
A properly-working cell phone poses almost no danger of igniting gasoline, even when surrounded by gasoline vapor with the optimum fuel-air mix for ignition. The actual risk comes from an electrostatic discharge between a charged driver and the car, often a result of continually getting into and out of the vehicle.
So, now you know! There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the use of mobile phones could cause an explosion in petrol stations. But beware of static electricity! A simple way to discharge yourself before grabbing the pump is to just.. touch the body of your car!
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Photo: TyneRoseMedia / YouTube, Unknown
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: Fires at Refueling Sites That Appear To Be Static Related | Real and phantom risks at the petrol station: The curious case of mobile phones, fires and body static | No Technical Reason to Prohibit the Use of Mobile Phones at Petrol Stations | Mobile Phone Petrol Station Explosion: Mythbusters