Opinion: No cellphones while re-fuelling

PHUKET: The Phuket Gazette wishes the Department of Energy Business (DoEB) the best of luck in its bid to get all motorists to put away their mobile phones while filling up at gas stations – it will certainly be difficult.

In May this year, officials of the DoEB confirmed that service station personnel would play a key role in ensuring that two safety procedures are enforced throughout the re-fuelling process – first, that all engines must be turned off; and second, that motorists are required to ‘put away’ their cell phones until the job is complete.

Service station attendants who fail to comply will face stiff penalties when the existing measures become strictly enforced sometime in 2018, DoEB officials said (story here).

The requirement to turn off the engine is reasonable enough. Even if the risk of a conflagration at the pump due to a running engine may be small, it is not negligible. Faulty ignition coils and other electrical components can generate sparks when these systems short circuit, creating the potential for catastrophe if gasoline vapors are ignited.

Gas station attendants can easily tell if an engine is still running and deny service until it is shut off. Modern cars are marvels of safety engineering and many new models are sensibly designed to prevent the filler cap from being removed if the engine is still running.

While the engine measure seems reasonable enough, enforcement of the requirement for motorists to put away their beloved cell phones during re-fueling will doubtless be daunting, if not impossible. For a start, cell phone ‘addiction’ is widespread. Far too many among us are simply incapable of not pecking away on these devices whenever an opportunity arises. What better opportunity than sitting idle in a gas station?

To put things in perspective, let us remember that it is already illegal for motorists to talk or text on their devices while operating a vehicle, yet this is an all-too-common practice in Thailand. If the police are not inclined to arrest motorcyclists who nonchalantly ride past them while fully engaged in a phone call, how can we ever expect them to enforce the same restriction against stationary drivers hidden from view behind black-tinted windows?

The DoEB should study the actual risks posed by cell phones at service stations and then start any enforcement effort by forbidding gas station attendants themselves from using their devices at the pumps, as is seen everyday here. It might not have a significant impact on overall safety, but it would certainly improve service standards.

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