Filling up the car with gas is so routine that you barely give it a thought -- until the day you drive away with the gas-pump nozzle stuck in the tank. Think you could never do something so stupid? So did the other folks who found themselves driving down the road with a gas hose trailing behind them. "I'd say this would happen at least once a month," Kirk McCauley recalls from his 31 years of owning a gas station in Beltsville, Md. "I've run people down four miles away. They had no idea the nozzle was in there." With 41 million fill-ups a day nationwide, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration ( EIA), it's not all that surprising that something goes awry occasionally. No one keeps a tally on hose breakaways, but the mistake is common enough that every gas station owner has a story or two about it, and the industry builds gas pumps with the mishap in mind.
Why cellphones and gas pumps don't mix
You know those signs telling you not to use a cellphone while fueling? Warnings that using a cellphone near a gas pump could spark a fire or explosion are based on an urban myth. The Petroleum Equipment Institute says it hasn't been able to document a single incident when a cell phone sparked a fire at a gas station. "In fact, many researchers have tried to ignite fuel vapors with a cell phone and failed," the institute says on its website. Instead, the signs are there because station owners want you to pay attention, says Jeff Lenard, spokesperson for the National Association of Convenience Stores in Alexandria, Va. "Invariably when consumers drive off with the gas nozzle it's because they were on the phone." McCauley, now director of member relations and government affairs for the Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades in Bowie, Md., agrees.