We have all seen signs warning about using a mobile phone while pumping gas. I remember asking my parents about it when I first learned to read. My dad was quick with the answer.

"Yes, people can get burned up if a spark from the phone ignites the gas fumes," he told me. I guess I've believed it all these years without question.

Diving deep into the question of whether anyone has ever been injured by a fire ignited by a mobile phone at the gas station, I could find not one single case.

According to the Petroleum Equipment Institute, there has been no documented case of a cellphone starting a fire at a gas station. The guys from the popular tv show Mythbusters even tried to make it happen to no avail.

The legend seems to have started in the late 90s. There was a Taiwanese newspaper story about an Indonesian man who was burned at a gas pump while using a mobile phone.  The story spread like a gas fire at a gas station, even though it was later refuted.

Firefighter Assist

Believe it or not, there have been several scientific studies about this possibility. A University of Oklahoma led by Glenn Kuriger at the Center for the Study of Wireless Electromagnetic Compatibility from August 2001 drew the decisive conclusion. Their study concluded:

While it may be theoretically possible for a spark from a cell phone battery to ignite gas vapor under very precise conditions, the historical evidence does not support the need for further research.’

There have been incidents of people having mobile phones in their hands when a gas station fire occurred. This added fuel, pardon my pun, to the idea that the phone started the fire itself. In all cases, the subsequent scientific studies proved that the fire was just incidentally present and played no role in the fire.

Even so, some places in the US have banned mobile phone use while pumping gas. They include  Oregon in 2017, New Jersey in 2011, Maryland, and several cities including Beverly Hills, California.

Hallandale Beach, Florida, also has a ban.

The chance is not zero. However, scientists have concluded that there may be a one in many billion chances of this happening.

Even so, We could NOT find any laws in Texas forbidding talking on a mobile phone while fueling a vehicle. This includes a state law or any municipality in the state. 

It is important to note that there have been cases of static electricity igniting gas fumes at gas stations. According to Michael Marando, staff liaison for the National Fire Protection Association, in a USA Today article dated June 16, 2022,

"If you go into the vehicle, sit down in your seat, and then come back out of the vehicle to touch the gas nozzle, you could create a static charge on you. And that static charge could lead to a spark that could create an ignition,"

We've all experienced a static shock, particularly in winter while touching metal after shuffling across a carpeted floor.

The American Petroleum Institute also suggests these precautions when getting gas.

1) Don't keep the engine running. This can cause an explosion

2) Don't smoke

3) Don't top off your tank, as gas can spill

4) Don't dispense gasoline into any container not specifically approved for that purpose. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that govern the management of hazardous waste, including gasoline. Under these regulations, storing gasoline in containers not approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is illegal.

Although it has not been studied, I worry that the high gas prices could cause a unique danger while filling up. The heat coming from your anger might ignite something. I'm not sure what the solution to that problem is. I won't suggest an electric vehicle since they seem to have enough of their own fire dangers.

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