Is it Dangerous to Pump Gas While Doing Other Things?

Can cell phones cause fires at gas pumps? No
Can static electricity cause fires at gas pumps? Yes

We recently received an email warning about gas pump fires caused by cell phones or static electricity. The email falsely claims that the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) found that fires were caused by individuals using a cell phone while pumping gas. PEI states that they have never been able to document a single gas pump fire caused by a cell phone. However, the email is correct that the Petroleum Equipment Institute found more than 150 refueling fires that appear to be caused by a discharge of static electricity.

Most of the fires that the Institute has investigated involved the driver starting the gas pump, getting back into their car, and when the driver gets back out of the car to remove the nozzle, static is generated when they slide across the seat and a spark may occur when they reach for the nozzle.

The most common causes of fires at gas pumps are leaving the engine running or smoking a cigarette.

Here’s the Institute’s advice for safe refueling

  • Turn off Engine
  • Don’t Smoke
  • Never re-enter your vehicle while pumping gas.

If you need to get back in the car while refueling, touch a metal part of your car that is not near the fuel tank area before reaching for the gas nozzle. Touching a metal portion of your car will dispel any static charge that you may have created while pumping gas.

If one of your passengers does need to get out of the car while you are refueling they should avoid touching the gas pump nozzle. If they need to operate the pump they should touch a metal portion of your car before touching the nozzle.

Why would anyone take an accurate report about gas pump fires and static electricity and then add a false story on cell phones? What a good question that is.

For more information concerning gas pump fire safety see

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.