cell phones/gas stations/BOOM

As i was traversing the net a few minutes ago, i was momentarily distracted during one of zdtv’s news reports.

Apparently, Canada (or maybe one of its provinces) has banned the use of cell phones at gas stations, as cell phones quite possibly could emit sparks and ignite gasoline fumes, or some such nonsense.

maybe this should be in mundane pointless stuff, but jesus. i don’t buy this for a second. i’m not even sure what my question is… has anyone else heard of this? one would think that spark plugs would be more of a threat than cell phones. i’d bet that static electricity would be more of a threat.

canadians, what is up with you? i’m tempted to make cell calls every time i fill up now.


I’d heard that there was really only a danger of sparking when you sent and/or received a call.

I don’t know the mechanism, but it seems like it’s a sensible theory - almost like how you can keep a light on during a gas leak, but if you turn it on, the tiny spark can make your house go boom if you’ve angered the propane gods.


I searched zdtv’s web site, and the following is a transcript of the canadian cell-phone menace story:

gas stations in canada are banning customers from using their cell phones around the pumps
the country’s four largest service stations are following a warning from ontario’s technical standards and
safety authority. it said that tiny sparks inside the cell phones could ignite gas vapors, and in some cases cause explosions. but other safety experts argue that a cell phone-sparked explosion is about as likely
as one started by static electricity generated by you getting in and out of your car.

canadians, PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS :smiley:

We Canadian taxpayers are burdened with a staggering government bureaucracy and are constantly confronted with make-work projects for bureaucrats. Our government thinks it helps to get re-elected (or at least retain a conservative and predictable bunch of voters) if more than half the voters are lazing around on the government payroll. It is a staggering stupifying pyramid of parasites who are constantly thinking up ways to justify their existance. One bozo recently proposed switching the fast and slow lanes on the highways to even out wear on the asphalt. The stupidity of government bureaucrats is entertaining, but we are brutally taxed to support them. They all get pensions indexed to inflation while private business in Canada is radically reducing pensions, so the government scum will be better off as senior citizens to boot. Anyway, banning cellphone use at gas pumps is moronic. You would be wiser to make people turn off their cars fifty feet from the pumps and push them up by hand if there is that kind of a spark hazard.
I tend to think it is more of a subconscious backlash against the cell phone infestation. ANY action against cell phone use might make people more aware that they have one glued to their head and reduce the number of cell phones ringing in theatres, funerals, etc. That’s just the kind of social engineering moralistic thinking that tends to motivate yer classic Canadian government bureaucrat.

This topic has been approached a few times before. It’s not only in Canada; some US filling stations are starting to impose the same restrictions.

It’s silly. First, there are no tiny sparks that occur in cell phones. Second, there are typically huge sparks that occur in the ignition and starting systems of all automobiles. The risk of an explosion from people starting their vehicles is 1000’s of times greater than from making a phone call!

And what about smokers who drive up smoking and put out their cigarettes by dropping them and stepping on them?

I’ve seen this a zillion times, and have yet to see a gas station explode.

I’ve never heard of it happening, just like I’ve never heard a specfic case of a radio-signalled detonator going off because someone drove past with their FM radio RECEIVER on (I’m sure that a significant minority, if not an actual majority, of drivers leave their radios on despite the signs).

However, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a legitimate argument to compare the spark plugs in a car to a cell phone.

The spark plugs are enclosed in a part of the engine that is designed to contain explosions. Unless something is wrong with the engine, the spark plugs don’t spark when outside air can get into the chamber.

Cell phones are enclosed in things that are designed to contain the guts of cell phones. Typically not a lot of thought has gone into making them absolutely airtight or explosion-resistant.

http://www.snopes.com/spoons/faxlore/gasvapor.htm says:

Who said anything about spark plugs? If you don’t think a starter motor sparks when you crank it, take an electric drill into a dark room and check out the bushings while it’s running.

Stephen’s Website
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I apologize to you all for my rant on the Canadian government bureaucracy. It’s not applicable to this topic. The ban on cell phone use at the pumps is being imposed by gasoline retail organizations who are private businessmen.

Our local CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National, Public (gummint supported), non commercial radio) station did a bit on this a couple day ago. According to the experts they interviewed, by far the biggest danger was: idiots who started the fill process, got a call, and then were so distracted they let the gas dump out all over the ground.

Do what you want with this …

Dilbert: But that would be dating myself
Dogbert: Well, it’s not like anyone else would date you

The original poster did:

The starter motor (or, presumably, the alternator… the only time I’ve SEEN my alternator sparking was when there was something wrong with it, but then the only time I LOOK at my alternator that closely is when there’s something wrong with it) is a lot more exposed and probably a lot more dangerous than either the plugs or the dreaded cell phone.

torq wrote:

True, the firing end of a spark plug is safely encased in the cylinder head, but the wires are often faulty and it’s not uncommon for them to be generating electrical sparks inside the engine compartment. Other sources of exposed sparks are the starter motor (as Stephen pointed out), electronic ignition modules, and countless solenoids and wiring connectors.

As for mobile phones, they deal with significantly lower power levels, so they are unlikely to generate sparks. Some people have claimed that the key switches may be able to generate sparks… Unlikely, since most modern phones use contactless Hall effect switches - they have a longer life and have lower power requirements… and this is key - the name of the game in cell phones is LESS power. arr… arr…

Cell phones do present a very real danger at gas stations, though. The other day I was waiting in line to fill my tank when I noticed the guy in front of me had clearly finished filling his. He was just standing there talking to some’buddy on his cell phone with no regard to paying up his bill and getting out of my way… He was nearly struck with a tire iron.

So many choices…I’ve got two response:

First, the radio receiver/explosives thing is a slight possibility. Radio receivers contain oscillators to be able to match the frequencies and hence generate a little radio-frequency interference. What it comes down to is convenience vs. concern for others–it is inconvenient for us to turn off our radio, but there is an extremely slight chance that many people will die if we don’t turn it off. Most of us find the combination of 1-in-a-billion chance with the won’t-hurt-me scenario sufficiently low risk to leave our radio on.

Second, there may be a pseudo-reasonable explanation for the banning of Cel-phones at gas stations. If you drop the phone and the battery gets damaged and shorts out, it could catch fire. Loose battery devices (like a Walkman) just dump the batteries on the ground and they generally don’t short out, so they’re okay. Again, it’s the convenience vs. 1-in-a-billion chance and the fact that it’s unlikely you’ll personally be hurt.

I’m trying not to be judgemental because I believe this is human nature. The world in general is a dangerous place–you could slip on a patch of ice and die, for instance. It’s nobody’s fault the ice was there, and it isn’t necessarily your fault that you slipped, it’s just an unlikely event that ends in tragedy. When you make decisions in your daily life, you end up balancing benefit and risk. When risk is very small, benefit almost always wins no matter how minor it may be.

The scary part to me is how we tend to assign less risk to events that hurt other people–driving fast, using a cel-phone at a gas station, or stepping out of an office without checking if anyone’s coming are all things that almost everyone does, the risks to themselves are smaller than the risk to others, and the benefit of the behavior is relatively small.

Oops…we were talking about exploding gas stations…sorry!

Hey, aren’t you supposed to be at work?


You wrote:

I disagree with you on this point. Cell phone batteries are actually better protected from damage than conventional batteries due to the plastic shell.


Who said anything about spark plugs?

The original poster did:

Sorry, I thought you were responding to one of the other posters. My mistake.

Stephen’s Website
Satellite Hunting 1.1.0 visible satellite pass prediction
shareware available for download at
Satellite Hunting