Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cell Phones and Petrol Stations

My wife Ellen and I are big fans of the Discovery Channel show MythBusters (currently shown on Australian FTA Television Monday 7:30 SBS), an interesting amalgam of science, entertainment, big booms and the just plain gross.



In one of the initial episodes hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted an experiment to see if mobile phones could cause the petrol station explosions that they've been credited with. The result was a complete failure, busting the myth. What they did find was that the likely cause was static electricity from people jumping out of the car and touching the area around the gas tank without grounding themselves first.

Well it seems that Adam and Jamie don't have quite the scientific cred to be taken seriously by legislators. Take, for instance, Connecticut state senator Andrea Stillman who decided to try and get legislation passed making it illegal to use a cellphone at a gas pump because a chain email told her so.

Luckily someone with some academic cred has stepped into the knowledge void to let us know once and for all that the whole thing is a myth. Dr Adam Burgess, of the University of Kent, found that that out of 243 petrol station fires attributed to mobiles around the world in the last 11 years, not one was caused by a handset.
"He said manufacturers' warnings not to use mobiles at petrol stations because of the risk of fire gave the idea further credence."

Once again our old pal, the meme, rears its head to make something impossible seem to be a hideous danger to us all! I'm not saying that there aren't other things you should be thinking about when using a petrol pump besides chatting on the phone, but the beat up that this has received over the years is pretty phenomenal.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

damn good idea that show. and made by beyond.

i do wonder if the american audience have the australian voice-over guy...

the fiend
pondering starting that rumour...

Leonard King said...

I'm pretty sure they don't. I've heard ads and snippets with an American voice.

I'm amazed at the number of people that watch it actually. It has a huge following among the Techs here at work.

Anonymous said...

Hello Leonard,
Haven't seen or heard from you for a -long- time (not since you and I were doing serpent River storytelling stuff) and just saw you commenting on the fiend's livejournal, so I had to come and see what fun you and your blog have been up to.
Mythbusters has and almost religious following at our place too. Sabina has loved it ever since I introduced her to it, and laughs at the multiple explosions the boys fire off.
Must catch up some time...many things have been happening in my life.

Ben/Cara

Leonard King said...

Hey Ben. Great to hear from you. Catch up? Absolutely.

As for the blog, it gets a few visitors but this is probably the biggest bunch of comments so far. I'm greatly impressed. Feel free to drop back and see what else I find interesting.

As for Mythbusters...
"Jamie wants big boom!" always gets a chuckle round our place.

Colin Smith said...

I always thought that mobiles have the same effect at service stations as they do on aircraft - they foul up electronic communications. I had this idea that it might make reading the pump meters more difficult.

Whatever. The guys at the Shell down the road from me still smoke cigarettes on the premises. I'm hoping one day that I'll just hear a large -whump- and that'll be the end of it.

Leonard King said...

Which is exactly the opposite to what Sean does. From what he's said if he sees someone talking on the phone while pumping petrol he gets on the announcer system and yells "BOOM!!!"

That's our Sean...

Colin Smith said...

Of course he does. :D