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. This video shows an actual incident we believe was sparked by static electrical discharge.
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
Mythbusters: TV duo examine the science behind the story.
Snopes.com: Analysis of infamous warning e-mails circulating
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
PEI grants permission to use this information or video, provided if it is not altered or sold for profit. We request acknowledgment and if possible a link included to: www.pei.org/static