Benjamin Preiss, 09 March 2016

Ever filled up on petrol and driven off without paying? If so, you are among thousands of people who do it each year.

And tens of thousands of these so-called fuel drive-offs remain unsolved.

A state parliamentary inquiry has reported fuel drive-offs – deliberate and accidental – cost Victorian retailers millions of dollars each year with one estimate putting the figure as high as $20 million.

In 2014 there were 3111 fuel drive-off offences investigated by police compared with 5280 in 2006, according to the report.

However, the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association put the number of drive-offs at 192,000 last year.

The report, tabled in Victorian Parliament today, showed the top three municipalities accounted for almost half of all recorded drive-offs over 10 years.

Brimbank in the west topped the list with 4035 recorded drive-offs followed by the City of Casey on 3190, then Hume (2480) and Hobsons Bay (1628).

But the local government areas of Yarriambiack, Swan Hill and the Northern Grampians recorded just five incidents over the 10 year period.

According to police data submitted to the inquiry the vast majority of drive-offs remain unsolved. From 2005 to 2014, more than 34,000 drive-offs were unsolved from a total of 42,358.

“During this period Victoria Police issued one infringement notice, but regularly withdrew complaints,” the report said.

The report said the fuel industry had high sales volumes with low profit margins, which meant the effect of drive-offs was concerning for small and medium-sized businesses.

The inquiry recommended the Victorian government introduce a state-wide education campaign to combat drive-offs together with police, Crime Stoppers and fuel retailers.

It also called for biannual forums to be conducted by Victoria Police with retailers to discuss the issue.

The inquiry found there was anecdotal evidence there may be a connection between fuel theft and stolen numberplates but insufficient reliable data made it impossible to examine the extent of the correlation.

Extracted in full from The Age.