Fact or fiction: Using a cell phone at the gas station can cause a fire

Media contact(s) 
Laura Merritt
T. 614.560.8055

According to Snopes.com, warnings about the dangers of using cell phones in the presence of gasoline fumes began circulating on the Internet in 1999. The original Internet warning referenced an incident in Indonesia wherein a driver was burned and his car badly damaged as a result of an explosion. A later rumor involved a man in Australia. However, no reports on these or similar accidents ever surfaced in the news media.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) states there is no evidence that these reports are true. While it may be “theoretically possible for a spark from a cell phone battery to ignite gas vapor,” the FCC concludes the potential threat is remote.

So, what is the likely cause of fires at the pump? 

According to the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) static electricity discharge is a major culprit. PEI goes on to recommend three simple rules for safe refueling:

  1. Turn off engine.
  2. Don't smoke.
  3. Never re-enter your vehicle while refueling.

While your cell phone may not actually be the cause of an fire at the gas pump, experts all agree consumers should take the appropriate precautions--follow these three rules and those posted by the gas stations to reduce risks.

Even so, gas pumps around the world bear stickers cautioning motorists to turn off their phones while refueling. In 1999 the city of Cicero, Illinois passed the first law in the U.S. banning the use of cellular phones at gas stations. Today all major oil companies have followed suit and, as a preventive measure, ban cell phone use at gas pumps.

Laura Merritt is a public relations manager with Verizon Wireless. Follow her on Twitter at: @VZWlaura.