September 10, 2003
A new twist in forwarded scare stories

So my mother forwarded me an email yesterday that contained a warning from the Petroleum Equipment Institute about using cellphones while gassing up one's vehicle. According to the email, some form of electrical charge from cellphones had ignited fumes at gas stations on at least three different occasions, and goes on to give warnings about using cellphones while refueling and four rules for safe refueling, of which one is "don't use your cellphone".

What I found curious, and indeed unique, about this email was that unlike every other forwarded scare story I've ever received, it contained a link to its pruported source material. It was therefore a trivial matter to follow the link and see for myself that this warning, not unlike every other forwarded scary story I've ever received, was pure bunkum.

Our report does not pertain to cellular telephones.

In fact, PEI has not been able to document a single refueling fire incident related to a cell phone. For more information on that issue we provide these links.

Only refueling fires that appear to be started by static electrical discharge are detailed in our report.

Following one of those links to this Wired story, I see that this mismessage has been going around for awhile, and that Snopes has addressed it. No surprises there.

I don't understand why anyone would write a supposedly informative piece of mail that contains the exact key needed to prove its contents false, but then I don't understand why someone would write one of those emails in the first place. We live in a strange world.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 10, 2003 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

From one IT professional to another, this reminds me of all the virus hoaxes we get on a regular basis. It's easy to go to Norton or Mcafee's web sites and prove them false, however, we need to make sure that this is the case.

It also reminds me of the urban legend that Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials (folks, if you're too young to remember Mikey, ask your parents) dying from eating Pop Rocks (folks, if you're too young to remember Pop Rocks, then that just proves that I am an old man. )that exploded in his stomach.

Posted by: William Hughes on September 10, 2003 2:09 PM

but there are gas stations that have signs that say "turn off cell phones". not that i ever used the phone while filling up, but it wasn't until an episode of CSI last season where they had that be the method of death when i wondered where that story came from (on the show, dead guy had been siphoning gas with his mouth, and his face went up in flames when he answered his cell).

one more thing indicating how far reality and fiction have merged.

(and William, i have friends who were born after Star Wars originally ran in theaters, so i know how ya feel :)

Posted by: DesertJo on September 10, 2003 5:31 PM

Explains the beliefs of the majority of americans regarding Iraq, doesn't it?

Posted by: JohnC on September 10, 2003 5:45 PM

DesertJo, the Snopes article mentions that various service stations do carry the "turn off your cellphone" warning. There is apparently a very small risk in leaving it on while fueling. I'm cool with the warning, since the bother is small and the downside is huge. It's just that there are no known cases of this risk manifesting itself so far.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 10, 2003 7:16 PM