Ditch your phone when at the gas pump

By , Senior Photojournalist  |  Sunday, March 10, 2013 9:48 PM

The winter cold can make the few minutes at the gas pump feel especially slow, so some students, like junior Ana Schanzenbach, have found ways to kill time.

“I’ll check Facebook or text people or something like that,” Schanzenbach said.

However, gas stations post safety signs that advise against cell phone use at the pump.

Lee Gonzales, a service technician at the Sinclair gas station on Grand and Hamline Avenues, said the combination of “your three basic tools to start a fire,” which consist of oxygen, fuel and electricity, could be dangerous.

“In this case, it’s the electricity coming from your cell phone because there is an active current running through it,” Gonzales said.

Seemingly contradicting themselves, some gas stations have taken to posting QR codes, matrix barcodes scannable by smartphones, near pumps.

Schanzenbach said this move on the gas stations’ part is “definitely counterintuitive.”

Sinclair is one of the only stations near St. Thomas with the QR codes, but Gonzales said phone-induced fires at gas pumps are rare.

“There are fumes being pumped out at all times, but it’s mainly static electricity and it has to be a lot static electricity to actually create a fire,” Gonzales said. “There’s a very, very small chance it could happen.”

Besides the small risk of fire, the unfamiliarity with QR codes might ease some safety concerns.

“Not many people seem to know what it is even though it’s been around for a while,” Schanzenbach said.

Still, when it comes to playing with fire, Gonzales said it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“It’s definitely happened before,” Gonzales said. “You can wait five minutes … it’s just simple, just keep your phone in your car.”

Rita Kovtun can be reached at kovt1547@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in More News and has 2 comments so far.


  1. Kameron Kantor
    Mar. 11, 2013 6:44 AM

    As supplemental info, Mythbusters did a segment on this very claim.  Here’s a link to the video so you can see what they found (spoiler: cell phones don’t cause fires, but static electricity can).

  2. Bryan Helminiak
    Mar. 11, 2013 9:27 AM

    Mythbusters disproved this myth a few years ago. You are more likely to start a fire in the winter months by getting in and out of your car with the electic charge from a shock.

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