Decals posted warning of consequences of driving off without paying for gas

Monday, August 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With gasoline prices nearing the $2 mark this year, some motorists felt driven to crime: leaving off without paying for their fuel.

When the number got so high at one point earlier this summer, the Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers Association searched for a deterrent and found help from a 2-year-old law.

At convenience stores throughout Oklahoma, between 50,000 and 60,000 decals warning of the consequences of driving off without paying are posted on gas pumps.

They read: "Pay For Your Gas or Lose Your License. So think before you pump or you could be walking. Drive off without paying and it could be your last time to drive."

If that doesn't discourage, then there's the photo of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper or the notation of the "Pump Pirates Act," which went into effect in 1998.

Oklahoma is one of at least 10 states where a gas thief's license could be suspended. Several municipalities already have laws regarding the theft of gasoline at the pump.

The issue has become more important in this era of higher gas prices. In 1999, $234 million in fuel was stolen from convenience stores across the United States, the National Association of Convenience Stores says.

Vance McSpadden, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers Association and Association of Convenience Stores, considered this an opportune time to educate or remind, given that gas prices briefly topped $1.80 a gallon in June.

Drive-offs once averaged two to three a week but that has jumped to that many each day in numerous stores, said Lindsay Hutter, vice president of communication for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

On a Wednesday in mid-June, when gas prices were at their highest, 45 drive-offs were reported to Oklahoma City police. The price at the pump has gone down since.

Two months ago, after prices dropped, that number dropped to 14 such reports in Oklahoma City.

Jenny Love Meyer, public relations director for Love's Country Store, said the thefts are having a tremendous effect on the industry.

A $25 theft obviously means the store is $25 short. In part, that affects the manager's salary by impacting his or her possibility of a bonus and the company profit-sharing plan, Meyer said.

Love's has applied the decals to several hundred pumps.

"They (customers) need to realize they're not taking this money out of OPEC's pocket, they're taking it out of the local businesses," Hutter said. "These are businesses that provide job opportunities and generate tax revenue for city and county government.

"This is a friend you're stealing from, not some unknown oil sheik."