Is using the smartphone while refueling really risky?


You’ve probably seen this panel many times when refueling with petrol or diesel: it is strictly forbidden to use your smartphone while refueling. This ban stems, in France, from an order of April 15, 2010 – there is a similar ban in many countries around the world.

However, it is enough to use his car to realize that not all users respect it. However, it is in vain to seek: the explosions or departures of fire in service stations are extremely rare phenomena. And for once, the accidents which prove to have actually been caused by the use of a smartphone during the full are statistically absent subscribers. How to explain this? How old is the measurement? And above all, why is this ban still in force in 2023?

Your smartphone actually poses a very low risk of an accident at gas stations

The basic idea behind this prohibition may seem obvious. When you go to a gas station, the smell of fuel can be very strong. This means that highly flammable materials are atomized in the surrounding air. A spark, and the whole service station can catch fire, or even explode. At least, that’s the theory.

Because recent smartphones generally do not generate any sparks. These are highly integrated devices and often equipped, on top of the market, with a watertightness certification. Moreover, these devices usually only generate a few hundred milliwatts of magnetic waves – which is well below what is needed to ignite gasoline.

Note also that we are only talking about gasoline here. Diesel, oilier and less volatile, is much more difficult to ignite. For example, you can throw a match directly into a container filled with diesel: nothing will happen. Moreover, who says smell of gasoline, does not necessarily mean that there is danger of explosion. It’s all about focus.

In fact, even in the event of a motorist refueling using their smartphone and the battery of the latter catching fire, it is likely that the incident would go no further than having to cover the device in flames. sand. At least it depends on the distance between the fire is the source of danger. Because there are areas in gas stations where the use of an electronic device or smoking could, in theory, have catastrophic consequences.

…so why is this ban still in effect in 2023?

This is particularly the case of fuel tank vents (generally out of reach) or near the fuel nozzle where the concentration of flammable vapors is much higher. However, as we said above, to our knowledge, accidents of this type are almost non-existent in France and elsewhere in the world. So why is this decree updated in 2010 still in force?

First of all, you should know that the decree is based on texts much older than 2010. We can cite decree nr 96-1010 of November 19, 1996 relating to equipment and protection systems intended for use in explosive atmospheres , or the order of January 23, 1980 relating to the precautions to be taken when refueling aircraft at aerodromes.

The decree is also based on provisions in force for other establishments storing hazardous materials. The official reasons do not help us much, since the same reason as the one we mentioned above is advanced. And yet… from Mythbuster to several reports around the world, everything seems to indicate that the risk of using a smartphone while refueling is ultra low, if not non-existent.

There remains, however, a reason of common sense which may still encourage the authorities to maintain the decree in 2023. The storage of fuel indeed makes installations such as service stations dangerous sites. Locations where, although the risk of an accident is indeed very low, very rapidly evolving disasters can occur – meaning that customers’ full attention is required at all times.

But the use of smartphones is precisely diverting attention. This can encourage other dangerous behaviors that can cause serious accidents – or waste the precious second that would have made the difference between survival and death… And you, what do you think of the ban on using smartphones in petrol stations? Should this ban be lifted? Share your opinion in the comments.

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