NEW YORK (April 25) - U.S. motorists, angered by soaring gasoline prices, are resorting increasingly to theft -- a trend that could worsen heading into summer driving season, a national association of fuel retailers said Thursday.
"It is getting bad. When the price of gasoline goes up, the number of drive-offs goes up," said Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, which represents about 8,000 retailers.
Drive-off means a motorist pulls up to a gas station's pump, fills the car's tank, and then speeds off without paying for the fuel.
U.S. gasoline prices struck a record $3.56 per gallon on average Thursday, bringing them more than 24 percent higher than a year ago amid a surge in the cost of crude oil, according to travel group AAA's daily survey of up to 100,000 service stations.
Energy experts have said gasoline could top $4 a gallon in many parts of the country heading into summer, when demand for the fuel typically peaks with road travel as Americans go on vacation.
Gilligan said that some state fuel dealer associations were pressing lawmakers to make it easier to prosecute motorists who fill up and then drive off without paying, while many service stations were starting to require payment up front.
"The last time we had a spike up in gasoline, lots of retailers switched to requiring payment before fill-up," said Gilligan. "But many retailers still want to preserve the trust relationship they have with their customers."
(Editing by John Picinich)