New law tries to sink `gas pirates’
Motorists who fill up and drive off without paying had better think twice.
Under a new Colorado law that took effect July 1, “gas pirates” can lose their driver’s license.
The problem is widespread, with local police receiving reports of gas skips almost daily.
“As gasoline drive-offs have been on the rise over the last few years, gasoline retailers have felt a significant monetary hit,” a news release from the Colorado-Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association said. “Theft has become a cost of doing business – with losses due to theft being passed on to paying customers.”
The law establishes stairstep penalties that increase with each conviction.
The first conviction of fuel piracy brings a mandatory fine of $250. The second could result in the loss of that person’s driver’s license for six months. For the third and all subsequent gas piracy convictions, the perpetrator would lose his license for a year.
But Glenwood Springs police Lt. Lou Vallario said although the possible loss of driving privileges is a new wrinkle to punish gas pirates, municipal police departments use laws already on the books to prosecute gas pirates.
“We could go up with a straight petty theft with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a year in jail,” he said, for first-time offenders.
The suspension of driving privileges, he said, is tied to so many things, it’s unclear just how effective it is.
“It goes to the same thing, we already have laws that enforce that, it’s just a matter of enforcing them,” Vallario said.
Vallario estimates his department receives an average of about 20 to 30 reports of gas skips per month.
According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, gas pirates cost the industry $272 million in 2000.
“Individuals that drive off without paying leave the gas island at unsafe speeds to avoid being caught, creating a more dangerous environment,” the CWPMA release said.
To inform would-be gas pirates of the new law, decals featuring a stern-looking state trooper holding a Colorado driver’s license and explaining the penalties for committing a gas skip.
“It may deter somebody who’s thinking about it for the first time, but not someone who has gotten away with it a few times,” Vallario said.
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