The Petroleum Equipment Institute began investigating mysterious refueling fires in the mid-1990s. We learned that static electricity—the same thing that shocks you after you drag your feet on the carpet—can ignite gasoline vapors at the pump.
Almost 200 incidents have been reported to PEI that appear to be related to static electrical discharge. We've made our full report of Refueling Fire Incidents available.
Three Rules for Safe Refueling
1. Turn off engine.
2. Don't smoke.
3. Never re-enter your vehicle while refueling.
Are Cell Phones Responsible?
No. We have not documented a single incident that was caused by a cellular telephone.
Cell phones continue to be cited as causing fires at the pump in e-mails circulating on the Internet. So far, we have been unable to document any incidents that were sparked by a cellular telephone. In fact, many researchers have tried to ignite fuel vapors with a cell phone and failed.
PEI still advises against using any electronic device that might distract the motorist during the refueling process.
The following links offer more information on static electrical discharge— the fact and the fiction.
FCC: info on wireless devices at gas stations
Snopes.com: Analysis of infamous warning e-mails circulating
Mythbusters: Season One includes an episode on the cell phone myth and features our own Robert Renkes
University of Oklahoma: Report on wireless phones at gas stations
ESD Journal: More static-related incidents and safety tips
About.com: Detailing the truth of the urban legend
PEI Forum: Safe refueling questions and answers
Books on Static Electricity
Electrostatics: Exploring, Controlling and Using Static Electricity by A. D. Moore & Joseph Crowley
ESD Design and Analysis Handbook by James E. Vinson
Electrostatic Ignition of Fires & Explosions by Thomas Pratt
ESD: the Scourge of Electronics by Sten Hellstrom
Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age by George Carlo
More books on Static Electricity from Amazon
Download the video of an actual refueling fire incident:
WMV | AVI | MOV
PEI grants permission to use this information or video provided it is not altered or sold for profit. We request acknowledgement and if possible a link included to www.pei.org/static