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Old 2010-03-11
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Exclamation Donít Believe Everything You Read: 10 Driving Urban Legends

NMA Article: Donít Believe Everything You Read: 10 Driving Urban Legends



Snopes.com
is an invaluable resource for sniffing out urban legends, which have a tendency to take a life of their own when forwarded via email. What follows is a collection of urban legends compiled from the Snopes archives. If one peaks your interest, be sure to click through to read the full article on Snopes.



The Urban Legend:

Parking lot carjackers are placing flyers on the rear windows of automobiles, then taking the cars when drivers step out of their vehicles to remove the flyers.


Snopes Response:

This carjacking alert has been kicked from inbox to inbox since February 2004, and since then we have been following news reports for any sign of an actual carjacking ó either perpetrated or merely attempted ó that followed the script outlined in the widely-spread e-mailed caution, but we have yet to see evidence of so much as one. Were this “lure motorists from their vehicles by leaving flyers on their rear windows, then drive off with their cars” method as commonly in play as suggested in the example above, that surely would not have been the case. Nothing rules out there having been one carjacking carried out in the manner described that we have yet to hear about. But even if that proves to be the case, there is clearly no crime wave, no ever-present danger to motorists everywhere, no flyer-armed menace lurking in the nation’s parking lots.



The Urban Legend:

California is planning to ban black cars in order to curb global warming.


The Snopes Response:

We’ve seen many a case of a news item with some small, prospective kernel of truth to it being reported in an exaggerated, “OMG, can you believe they’re really doing this!!!” fashion, and this item about the state of California’s planning to pass legislation banning black (or all dark-colored cars) as a measure to help curb global warming is another example of that phenomenon. the California Air Resources Board never actually considered banning black cars, and all of the discussion about reflective paint requirements was merely part of a draft proposal which the ARB ultimately decided against as not cost-effective.



The Urban Legend:

Gang initiates are bumping their cars into others, then shooting whoever gets out of the bumped automobiles.


The Snopes Response:

The above-quoted warning about an imminent “car bump” gang initiation began spreading like wildfire via text messaging and e-mail on 26 March 2008. Like many other erroneous gang-related warnings, it posited initiates would be randomly choosing innocent victims and gunning them down as a way of gaining entry into gangs. And like many of those other warnings, this one came in dozens different variations, each proclaiming that the deadly activity (usually attributed to the “MS-13″ or Mara Salvatrucha gang) will take place in a different city, county, or state. Many different police departments around the country approached the rumor with skepticism, issuing disclaimers that they had not confirmed any such gang activity was taking place and that they did not have any credible information that activities are being planned.



The Urban Legend:

Any car equipped with a remote keyless entry system can be unlocked via cell phone.


The Snopes Response:

Relaying remote entry system signals via telephone might work if the signals were sound-based, but they’re not. An RKE system transmits an encrypted data stream to a receiver inside the automobile via an RF (radio frequency) signal, a signal that can’t be effectively relayed via cell phone. (In any event, RKE systems and cell phones typically operate on completely different frequencies; the former in the 300 MHz range and the latter in the 800 MHz range.) It’s possible this method might work with cars that use something different than standard RKE systems, but it doesn’t work with the vast majority of models.



The Urban Legend:

Red cars are ticketed for speeding more often than vehicles of other colors.


The Snopes Response:

The belief that red cars attract more speeding tickets than do their less rosily-hued counterparts is a cherished motoring factoid of long standing. Problem is, [the] premise is flawed as it does not appear that red cars get cited for speeding more often than they statistically should. In addition to the “earn more speeding tickets than they should” theory, other mistaken beliefs attach to red cars: They are widely thought to be stolen more often or be involved in a greater number of accidents.



The Urban Legend:

Thieves can steal cars by using VINs to obtain duplicate keys through auto dealerships.


The Snopes Response:

Stealing cars by using Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) to obtain duplicate keys from auto dealerships certainly has worked for some car thieves. A July 2009 news item from Chicago reported that a ring of thieves using purloined VINs had stolen hundreds of cars over an 18-month period, and a December 2002 article in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution described the break-up of a multi-state car theft ring which employed just such a scheme. While this article validates that the VIN scheme has been successfully used, it also demonstrates why the scheme doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to the average car owner. Using VINs to steal cars isn’t nearly as easy as the warning quoted above makes it sound: the thieves have to case the cars they want to steal, record VINs, make trips to auto dealerships, present some form of registration or proof of title, wait for the dealers to contact the manufacturers and make up duplicate keys, then return to wherever they found the cars in the first place and use the duplicate keys to steal them. But this is antithetical to the way car thieves generally work ó they’re creatures of opportunity who steal cars as they find them, quickly and anonymously.



The Urban Legend:

If you think your house is being burglarized, you should use your car alarm to summon help.


The Snopes Response:

This bit of e-mailed advice first reached us in July 2006. While at first glance it does appear to offer an inexpensive alternative to having a home alarm system installed, its premise is badly flawed ó folks just don’t come running when they hear a car alarm go off. Too many “Cry Wolf!” instances caused by car protection warning systems set to register even the slightest changes going on around them have inured society to the devices’ yeeps, yowls, and ooh-gahs. These urban noisemakers can be activated by as little as walking near a vehicle or by brushing an arm or a purse against one.



The Urban Legend:

Robbers are flinging eggs at cars to impair drivers’ vision and force them to stop.


The Snopes Response:

Though we’ve queried our police contacts and scoured news reports looking for accounts of robberies and carjackings effected by disabling target vehicles by pelting them with raw eggs, we weren’t able to find any such occurrences in the U.S. Rather, we did locate news stories about police cars so pelted, with the officers retaliating by giving chase to the miscreants who’d thrown eggs at them. In various news accounts we found, officers not only were able to see well enough through their poultrified windows to go after the bad guys, they succeeded in running them to ground and bringing them to justice. Most tellingly, such accounts made no mention of the gendarmes so assaulted experiencing difficulty in seeing well enough through their egged windshields to give chase.



The Urban Legend:

Michigan motorists can be fined for not signing the backs of their car registrations.


The Snopes Response:

This e-mail warning about “new legislation in Michigan” began circulating in December 2006. While the helpful heads-up was then correct that drivers in Michigan were required to sign the backs of their vehicle registrations as soon as they received those documents, the law in question was not new but in fact dated to at least 1949. That portion of the vehicle code was enacted back in those long-ago days when a vehicle’s title and registration were the same document, so it made sense at the time that a car owner should have to sign the document that showed he actually owned the vehicle. Those functions have since come to be served by two different documents rather than just one, so in November 2007 the Michigan legislature finally passed a bill to “eliminate the requirement that the owner of a vehicle must sign the vehicle registration certificate.”



The Urban Legend:

College student evades a rapist pretending to be a police officer by dialing #77 on her cell phone.


The Snopes Response:

Although in a few states calling #77 on a cell phone will immediately connect you to that state’s highway patrol, that code is far from universal. Some states use #77, but others use *55, *47, *77 or *HP, and some don’t have any special code at all. Rather than frantically try to figure out which one will work in the area you’re in, police generally recommend that the best approach is to get around the problem by trying 911 first.



The Urban Legend:

Putting sugar in the gas tank will ruin a vehicle’s engine.


The Snopes Response:

Judging from the entries made on one police blotter after another, cars around the nation are having their gas tanks sugared by those whom their owners have displeased. Why is this happening? Because, according to widespread belief, sugar poured into a gas tank will turn into a poor man’s version of liquid cement and quickly render the vehicle’s engine unfit for anything but a junkyard. In theory, the sugar dissolves into the gasoline, then travels along the fuel lines into the engine, where the heat of the vehicle’s operations melts the sweetener into a dense sludge that gets into every nook and cranny of the engine. [In reality,] sugar doesn’t dissolve in automotive fuel, it doesn’t carmelize, and so it does not turn into the debilitating gunk this well-known entry in the revenge canon calls for. Instead, sugar poured into a car’s gas tank stays intact. While sugar could still cause harm if it reached the engine (but in the same way sand would, by virtue of its being a granular contaminant, not because the sugar would turn into a syrup), even that potential harm is generally prevented by filtration. A little sugar in the tank could be dealt with by no more than having to change the fuel filter a few times, but a heavier sugaring would require the gas tank be removed from the car and dumped out.



There are many, many more urban legends having to do with driving and cars. Do your friends and family a favor and check Snopes before you forward your next email.


In fact, if you’re going to forward anything, why not forward this article? :-)


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Don’t Believe Everything You Read: 10 Driving Urban Legends


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