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Gas station drive-offs spike as fuel prices soar

Before this month, police saw more accidental drive-offs than purposeful ones
2022-03-11 Gas pump
Stock image

The number of gas station drive-offs in Guelph is on track to double this month, as the price of gasoline exceeds $2 per litre for the first time. 

During the first half of May there were nearly as many people fill up their tank and leave without paying as there were during each of the previous four months, says Guelph police. Though many instances of this happening are deemed to be accidental, the number of intentionally fleeing cases in May has spiked.

“Certainly the rising cost of gasoline could be a factor, as well as more vehicles on the road as summer weather approaches, but it would not be appropriate for police to guess the reason behind possible trends,” commented Guelph police spokesperson Scott Tracey in an email.

Between May 1 and May 17, there were 29 gas station drive-offs reported to local police. Of those, 12 were found to be accidental and 14 intentional, with three unknown.

During January there were 17 accidental and eight intentional drive-offs. There was only one intentional drive-off reported in February, along with 25 accidental incidents. Each of those months saw six drive-offs of unknown intent.

March had 21 accidental drive-offs and nine intentional ones, with four more purposeful incidents in April and 16 accidental ones. Unknowns for those months were eight and seven respectively.

“Accidental drive-offs most often involve situations where, for example, a motorist attempts to pay at the pump but the payment does not go through and the motorist pumps the gas without realizing it,” Tracey explained, noting those incidents can also include simple forgetfulness.

“Most gas stations have very good video surveillance, so whether a drive-off appears to be accidental or intentional the odds of identifying the vehicle and driver are quite high.”

In cases of intentional drive-offs, the most common charge laid is theft under $5,000 or fraud, depending on the circumstances, Tracey added.

As tracked by the provincial government, the cost of gasoline surpassed $2 per litre for the first time in May, with a provincial average of $2.072 on May 16. That’s up from $1.983 per litre on May 9, $1.861 on May 2 and $1.816 on April 25.

If someone realizes they forgot to pay after leaving a gas station, Tracey advises them to return to make payment or “at least” contact the station to acknowledge the error and make payment arrangements.

“In cases of accidental drive-offs in which the station contacts police, officers are generally able to resolve the issue by contacting the driver either by phone or in-person and having them make arrangements to settle the bill,” he said. “In such cases no charges would be laid if there was no criminal intent.”