It’s a story that has gained perpetual “legs” over the years: the idea that using your mobile phone while at the petrol pump will cause an explosion and result in you being engulfed in a fireball.
While this scenario sounds as if its straight from a Hollywood film, there is some validity to it – there are many stories about people whose cars have caught fire while using their phones nearby a petrol station. Plus, petrol stations seem to agree about the danger as they have large warning stickers plastered in which they warn you not to use your mobile phone while pumping petrol.
However, despite these factors, it seems that reports about the danger have been greatly exaggerated.
The Petroleum Equipment Institute has unequivocally stated that they have not encountered “a single incident” in terms of someone causing a fire while simultaneously pumping petrol and using a mobile phone. They further stated that news stories which attribute a petrol station fire to mobile phone usage to be “coincidental rather than causal”, as mobile phones happened to be in the vicinity of the fire.
This firm denial has support from many other sources, including fact-checking website Snopes, which has busted this myth, by labelling it as “false”. Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from the popular TV programme MythBusters have also disproved the legend in a controlled experiment where they attempted to replicate the claim. During the experiment, the duo couldn’t start a fire despite having a phone receive a text message and ring continuously
What actually causes a fire at a petrol station?
One of the suspected causes is static electricity, which often occurs in areas defined by low humidity. However, as Singapore’s climate is defined by high humidity, there is far less chance of static electricity developing. These incidents could possibly occur as vapours escape around the pump nozzle when someone is pumping petrol, and if those vapours come into contact with static electricity, they could ignite and start a fire.
How to avoid a fire while pumping petrol
While it’s unlikely to happen, there are precautions that you can take. Always remember to ground yourself when stepping out of your car by touching your car itself, or an electrostatic discharge (ESD) pad on the pump. It’s also advisable to not use your phone while refuelling, simply because you could become distracted and pump diesel instead of petrol!
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