Great moments in jumping to conclusions

Via Mark Frauenfelder, I came across this video of a driver who misunderstood why some people were trying to get her attention.

While it is funny, as with so many things on the internet these days, this may be a fake, staged incident. Who knows? But if it is fake, the acting is pretty good. Maybe we can add ‘Fuel pump Karen’ to the list?


  1. flex says

    I dunno, it looks real.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever looked closely at the pump hoses, but it’s pretty clear that there is a break-away point designed into them, and I suspect there is a value which automatically shuts off the petrol when some one forgets the nozzle is still stuck in the car and drives off. And considering how many people dis-obey the signs and get back into their car when fueling up, it doesn’t really surprise me that a person driving off with the nozzle isn’t that uncommon.

  2. Mano Singham says


    That is a good point. It makes sense to design a break-away tension limit since otherwise the entire pump might get damaged, a much more expensive proposition.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Once, not long after I passed my driving test, I drove up behind a woman driving alone in the centre lane of an otherwise empty motorway (i.e. she wasn’t overtaking anyone, but was in the centre lane anyway), and flashed my lights. She ignored me. I flashed her again. She made a hand gesture in return. I pulled out to the right (UK) and started to overtake her, at which point she sped up. I sped up some more. My car was old and low powered, so it took a LONG time for me to pull level with her, sound my horn and gesticulate at her. She crossly gesticulated back with a very frowny face, and sped up even more, past the point where I could keep up with her. At that point, I gave up, slowed down, pulled back in to the left lane, and let her go about her day.

    I do sometimes wonder, even 25 years on, how many more miles she drove at 70mph and more before she realised that I was only doing this because her front offside tyre was so flat it was literally shedding rubber strips onto the road as she went, and whether she discovered that fact by some means other than shedding the tyre entirely and crashing her fucking car. I didn’t pass any wreckage, but then I did get off at the next junction, so I’ll never know.

    I also wonder whether she ever connected my actions to the fact she was in imminent danger and felt any guilt about having assumed I was hassling her rather than doing my best to help. I doubt it. It’s twenty five years later, and only now can I think of her as “Karen”.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    dis-obey the signs and get back into their car when fueling up

    In the UK there’s a simple method for stopping you getting back in your car: if you aren’t there to hold the pump trigger on, the flow of fuel stops. You can’t lock it on, because why would you need to? Even the thirstiest cars with the biggest fuel tanks can be filled in little over a minute or two. You simply have to stand there and fill it, then put the pump handle back on the rack. When I’ve had to drive in the US, I was baffled by how different and difficult and dangerous a simple transaction like fueling a car can be made if you try.

  5. John Morales says


    […] and only now can I think of her as “Karen”

    Like Karen Carpenter. Good singer, shame she was a Karen.

    (Also, Mike Pence is married to a Karen)

  6. johnson catman says

    re sonofrojblake @4: The US limits consumer gasoline pumps to a maximum of 10 gallons per minute. In my experience, it is more likely to be about half that at a lot of retail stations. US consumers have neither the patience nor the grip-strength to hold the nozzle open for four minutes or more while their SUV tank is filling up. If a station does not have locking nozzles, they will simply not sell much gasoline.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    If a station does not have locking nozzles, they will simply not sell much gasoline.


    If NO stations had locking nozzles -- if they were illegal, as it seems it’s illegal to pump at a sensible rate, then they’d all sell exactly as much gasoline as they did before, just in a larger number of transactions. And since each of those transactions has a chance of side-sales of things like drinks and snacks, I’d expect them to be motivated to do this. Consumers would eventually develop patience and grip strength, I suspect, in such circumstances.

    I do wonder what is the reason for the artificially low limit on pump rates? It can’t be a safety thing. I say that as a chartered chemical engineer who is regularly required to view CSB “what went wrong” safety videos, and the state of process industry safety in the US is frankly terrifying. In particular, it’s a common refrain at the end of such videos that “an accident just like this happened three years previously in the same state, but the CSB’s safety recommendations arising from that were not implemented”. Apart from anything, gagging the flow means the operator/driver has to stand there longer, which increases the likelihood they’ll jam the valve on and push off to do something more interesting. This is a well-known human factors problem across the chemical industry even with well-paid, well-trained operators on hazardous plants. I’ve seen dead-man switch style safety systems deliberately defeated to save someone the bother of having to stand holding a button for two minutes. Part of my job is solving that sort of problem, usually by automating the operation and firing the operator.

    The concept of gagging the flow to artificially extend the duration of the operation AND deliberately providing a means for the operator to jam the valve open gives me the professional screaming heebie jeebies. It’s like… I don’t know what’s a good analogy. Chicken carpaccio?

  8. publicola says

    Just guessing, but maybe the flow is restricted because the narrower fill pipe used for unleaded can’t handle more than that.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    @publicola, 8:

    maybe the flow is restricted because the narrower fill pipe used for unleaded can’t handle more than that

    Your guess that fill pipe diameter could place limits on volumetric flow capacity is correct. However, fill pipe diameter is a design decision, usually selected from standards (in this case EN 13012 in the EU), and the pump volumetric flow rate is another design decision within that constraint. If the pump isn’t delivering the maximum possible flow down the nozzle, someone decided that was going to happen.

    Other design decisions include building cars that get crappy mileage, building roads with no petrol stations for hundreds of miles, building cars with huge fuel tanks because of the combination of the previous two decisions, and then building petrol pumps with ways to defeat the deadman switch present on explosive fluid supplies in most of the rest of the world. The fact that they then have to go to the extra effort of building in dry-break cutaways for when people simply drive off with the nozzle still in the vehicle seems like building a huge moat around the stable door that you previously deliberately fitted with a horse-operable latch.

  10. djudge says

    I’m almost sure it’s staged.

    She walked past the pump hose sticking out of her car to come up to the guy’s car.
    That’s why the video starts after that, they had to leave that obvious thing out.

    Guy: “There’s something hanging out of your car”
    Woman: instead of looking “What are you talking about”
    This is nog natural behaviour.

  11. Katydid says

    @sonofrojblake: many things in the USA are frankly terrifying. MAH FREEDUMBS Back in the 1990s when gas prices spiked in the USA (as they periodically do), a co-worker of mine had a Hummer that got about 12 mpg and was downright self-righteously furious, as if the entire country was conspiring against him by raising gas prices. I pointed out that 1) gas prices fluctuate, but on the whole the cost in the USA is about half of what other countries pay, and 2) that he was a single man in his 30s and the Hummer was a choice he himself made to buy because as a single man with no dependents, literally any other car would suit his travel needs--many that got decent gas mileage.

    The cry “MAH FREEDUMBS” hadn’t been invented yet, but he certainly threw a fit the equal of any Karen about the catastrophic injustice of being made to pay for fuel for his bloated monstrosity of a vehicle.

  12. johnson catman says

    re sonofrojblake @7:

    If NO stations had locking nozzles — if they were illegal,

    At some point many years ago, there were “self-service” nozzles and “full-service” nozzles. The self-service nozzles did not have the locking mechanism but the full-service nozzles did because full-service means that a dedicated employee was the only one allowed to use the nozzle. It was assumed that they had enough sense to pull the nozzle out of the fill valve before collecting the money and sending the customer on their way, whereas an “amateur” operator using a self-service pump may indeed forget what they were doing while the nozzle was locked open while filling their car. At some point, I guess the screaming masses won and the norms were changed and the locking nozzles were allowed at self-service pumps. FREEDUMB!

  13. flex says

    You know, all this talk of locking nozzles makes me wonder if people here use them at all.

    There are multiple safety features in the nozzles and engaging the locking mechanism does not risk petrol overflowing the tank with any nozzle design used in the last 30 years. The locking mechanisms are automatically disengaged when the petrol level gets within about 6 inches (~15cm) of the spout. The mechanism works so well that I’ve sometime had to re-adjust the spout in my fuel tube because the sensing mechanism thinks the tank is already full. The nozzles I used to use on the farm didn’t have these safety features, but none of the gas stations around here lack them. Is there someplace in the US where commercial gas stations are not required to use safe nozzles?

    Here is a video explaining how they operate:

  14. bmiller says

    I was guilty once of distracted service station attendance. The Ford Dealership gave me a gigantic Ford F150 pickup truck as a loaner while they were fixing my little Focus. I have never driven a vehicle this large. Never. So, of course, I scrape it, no gouge it on the side of pump protection bollards at my local gas station. 🙁 It cost me a LOT of money, because I didn’t buy the extra insurance for the rental and my rates skyrocketed! 🙁 My rates are still high!

  15. Mano Singham says

    bmiller @#15,

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience.

    I also drive a compact sedan. When I took it once for a service, they gave me this monster GMC SUV as a loaner. I asked for a small car but they did not have one. I hated it and drove it really gingerly because I had never driven such a big vehicle. Fortunately I did not have to fill gas since it was only for a few hours and did not have any accidents.

    But it strikes me as bad practice to give such massive vehicles as loaners to people who may not be used to them. I also do not understand why anyone would want to own such a vehicle unless they need a lot of power, such as to haul a trailer or carry cargo regularly. They are so hard to park, for one thing.

  16. flex says

    @14, robertbaden,

    I’ve also noticed that in many stations the flow rate drops proportionally to the number of people pumping.

    Which suggests that they only have a single pump, and it’s not strong enough to maintain a constant pressure in the lines. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I don’t really mind the extra minute, but I’m certain other people get frustrated if they see the pump merrily chugging along and then it slows down to half the speed when there are only a couple of gallons to go.

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