Pump & Run, Lose Your License

New MN law drives up punishment for gas thieves

ST. PAUL -- Mischievous consumers in Minnesota will have to think twice about trying to pump and run. A new law that takes effect Aug. 1 will allow authorities to suspend the driver's license of convicted gas thieves for a month, according to the Associated Press. It comes as service stations report a 30% rise statewide in fueling and fleeing.

It won't stop at a suspension, either. Gas scofflaws would also be hit with the usual misdemeanor criminal penalties, which can bring fines and jail time. "It's not a fantasy bill, but hopefully it will deter a [image-nocss] significant number of people," said State Rep. Keith Ellison, the bill's sponsor.

According to the Minnesota Service Station Association, the state's 3,200 gas stations lose about $2.4 million a yearor about $750 eachto drive-offs. And urban stations tend to be bigger targets.

Ted Brausen, who owns three north suburban stations, told AP that drive-offs cost him $4,000 last year. But he's even more worried about safety because some thieves simply drop the nozzle while it's running, which can leave a gas puddle that could go up in flames.

Lance Klatt, executive director of the state station association, said the spike in theft corresponds with jumps in gas prices.

Station owners are reluctant to fight the drive-offs by making gas buyers pre-pay or use credit cards at the pump. That's because it reduces the incentive for motorists to set foot in the stores and pick up sodas, candy bars and other items that pad station profits.

Minnesota lawmakers have tried to combat the problem in other ways. Four years ago, the Legislature adopted a law that enabled pump owners to go after nonpayers through civil court, an easier alternative to criminal prosecution. Georgia was the first state to suspend licenses in drive-off cases, and now more than half of states do.

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