evidence to back up the story, the first email to spread about the petrol myth
pointed out that filling stations post warnings not to use mobile phones while
refueling, and that phone manufacturers also have such warnings in their
manuals. It ended with the ominous advice, "Read your handbook!"
fact is, stations and phone manufacturers do post those warnings, and for good
to Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak, United Kingdom law requires that the manual for
any battery-operated device, from flashlights to radios, include a warning
stating that it shouldn’t be used at petrol stations.
mobile phones fit the bill, most printed manuals include that warning by
default. And the PEI’s Renkes says that when gasoline companies saw the
warnings in phone manuals, they simply followed suit and began posting the same
warnings at their pumps.
the rumor has expanded beyond the first email that circulated. In 2002, a new
email appeared, stating that Shell Oil had issued a warning not to use phones at
filling stations after three incidents in which mobile phones ignited petrol
fumes. But according to Shell spokesperson Stephanie Johnson, no such incidents
were reported, and no such warning ever came from Shell.
recently, a third email was added to the mix, quoting Bob Renkes himself. It
says that Renkes is working to spread awareness of the dangers of static
electricity at filling stations, and lists a series of eight warnings related to
the issue. In that list, warning number five reads, "Don’t ever use cell
phones when pumping gas."
early emails about the petrol myth seem to have been entirely false, but the
most recent one is different. "It’s 80 percent right, 20 percent
wrong," Renkes said. "That 20 percent wrong is point number
The Real Campaign
percent that’s right comes from the Stop Static campaign (www.pei.org/static),
a joint project which was started by the PEI and the American Petroleum
Institute (www.api.org) in response to
a series of actual incidents (www.pei.org/static/fire_reports.htm)
in which static electricity (not from mobile phones) ignited fires at filling
following incident report from February of 1999 is typical of those on the Stop
Static campaign’s web site: "Started fueling. Sat back in car to return
gas card to purse. Returned to rear of car to hold nozzle. Fire flared up as she
reached for the nozzle."
message of the campaign is simple: while refueling, turn off your vehicle, don’t
smoke, and don’t re-enter your vehicle.
get back into your car while you’re refueling, the friction of your body
against the car seat can build up static electricity. Unless you release it by
touching the car door or any other metal surface before you return to the pump,
that static electricity can ignite the gas vapors around the pump nozzle itself.
point is, you can build up static electricity through simple friction as you
exit the car. But it won’t come from your mobile phone.
University of Oklahoma study examined the potential for mobile phones to cause
explosions at gas stations, and concluded that there was no such risk.
"Until there is evidence to the contrary, we suggest that no further action
be initiated in this regard, and that no recommendations for further action are
required of the wireless phone or petroleum industries," the report stated.
the confusion it might cause, Susan Hahn, a spokesperson for the American
Petroleum Institute, says there is a positive side to the rumor’s persistence.
"When the calls about the cell phones comes along, it gives us the
opportunity to tell people about the real problem," she said.
even though talking on your phone won’t cause a fire at the pump, Hahn still
suggests avoiding it. "In general, safe fuel handling really does require
your full attention for the average two minutes that it takes to refuel,"
she said. "So you shouldn’t be distracted by other activities—including
using a cell phone."
Goldman is a freelance writer covering a wide range of topics for a number
of online journals. In addition to his work for TheFeature, he currently
writes for Wireless Business & Technology Magazine and Jupitermedia’s
ISP-Planet. Brought up in Belgium, Jeff spent the last decade in New York,
Chicago and London; he now lives in Los Angeles.