As gas prices soar over $4 per gallon, motorists are making tough decisions with regard to their summer travel plans.In fact, many are opting to stay close to home this vacation season. However, there are some who have other plans.Plans that, in the long run, could cost them even more.“As the price of gas increases, we tend to see more drive-offs at the gas pumps - when people simply drive away without paying for the fuel taken,” said Bullitt County Attorney Walter Sholar. “Although there have been criminal and civil laws regarding the theft of gasoline for some time, this year our General Assembly created a new civil liability law with regard to nonpayment of fuel.”The new law, which will take affect in mid-July, allows the retailer to charge a $30.00 service fee in addition to the price of the motor fuel to those who fail to make program payment, if a written notice of the service charge is conspicuously displayed at the retail facility.When a drive-off occurs, the law permits the retailer to send a notice by certified mail to the vehicle owner, whose name and address will be obtained from Transportation Cabinet records. The notice must state that the payment of the fuel cost and a $30 service fee must be received within 30 days.
If the retailer does not receiver payment within that time period, the vehicle owner is then liable for the following:•The price of the motor fuel received;•The service charge of $30.00, and•An additional civil penalty in the amount of the motor fuel received, or $100.00, whichever is greater.“The new law in no way prevents the retailer from taking other legal actions when drive-offs occur,” Sholar advised.He said the theft of gasoline in criminal terms is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor in most cases, unless the value is $300 or more, in which case it is a Class D felony.Class A misdemeanors carry a fine of up to $500, and an imprisonment term of 90 days to twelve months. Class D felonies are punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment and/or up to a $10,000.00 fine.In addition to these criminal consequences, those convicted of stealing gasoline or other special fuels from a retail establishment can lose their driving privileges for up to 60 days,“The new law is an efficient and more convenient way for the retailer to seek payment of stolen fuel,” said Sholar. “However, in addition to the new law, the retailer can pursue other civil charges through the judicial system. Kentucky law states that a retailer can seek repayment for the stolen fuel, plus a fee ranging from one hundred to five hundred dollars.”“When people don’t pay for their fuel, the law-abiding citizens of Bullitt County end up footing the bill by experiencing even higher gas prices,” Sholar said.