It’s an age-old myth: using your mobile phone at the petrol pump will cause an explosion and engulf you in a fireball.
We’ve read many stories about people who have had their cars catch fire while using their phones nearby.
Also, petrol stations plaster large warning stickers not to use your mobile phone while pumping petrol.
So that means when you’re next at the pump to refuel, you should keep your mobile phone safely in your pocket.
Or should you?
Have there been cases of mobile phones starting fires at petrol stations?
With the sheer number of mobile phones around, one would think there’s a possibility that someone could send a Whatsapp message while pumping petrol and start a fire.
However, no news reports have emerged pertaining to such an incident.
The Petroleum Equipment Institute has come out to unequivocally state that they have not encountered “a single incident” which was caused by someone using a mobile phone while pumping petrol.
This statement joins a chorus of support against the claim that using a phone while pumping petrol causes fires.
Fact-checking website Snopes also has a story dedicated to busting this myth, labelling it “False”.
They state 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.
Speaking of busting myths, the best example of a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis came from the Mythbusters duo, who attempted to replicate the claim.
The two couldn’t start a fire despite having a phone receive a text message and ring continuously in a box full of petrol fumes.
What causes a fire, then?
One culprit could be static electricity, which occurs in areas of low humidity.
Singapore, with its high humidity, has a lesser chance of static electricity developing.
When you pump petrol, vapours escape around the pump nozzle and the opening of your petrol tank.
If those vapours come into contact with static electricity, they could ignite and start a fire.
That could happen when you begin pumping petrol, and then decide to return to your car and sit down.
Don’t do that! That visit to your car could charge you up with enough static electricity to ignite the petrol fumes.
That’s why in some countries, there are signs warning you not to re-enter your vehicle while refuelling.
Also, remember to ground yourself when you step out of your car by touching your car itself, or an electrostatic discharge (ESD) pad on the pump.
To round things off, using your phone while pumping petrol does not cause fires.
But it’s best to keep your phone away while refuelling so you don’t get distracted and pump diesel instead of petrol!