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Petrol drive-offs: servos win access to VicRoads data

The Age, 1 November 2013

A Victorian service station company has won the right to access the identity of people who drive away without paying for fuel. APCO, which operates 23 service stations across Victoria, won its case in the Geelong Magistrates Court on Thursday, allowing it to access VicRoads driver details to demand payment.

Director of APCO, Robert Anderson, said Victoria Police's policy changes earlier this year regarding fuel drive-offs had caused problems for service stations across the state.

"The change in policy means police won't follow up what we deem to be petrol theft, unless we can clearly demonstrate that there was some criminal intent or behaviour," Mr Anderson said.

As of July 1, police stopped investigating fuel drive-offs unless it could be proven the car was stolen or had stolen number plates.

If a service station cannot provide evidence of criminal behaviour or intent – for example, if someone forgot to pay – the incident would be handled as a civil debt, with the onus being on the service station to contact the driver and seek payment.

Mr Anderson said the only recourse available to service stations was to obtain driver details based on number plate records from VicRoads, which is governed by strict privacy laws and does not release the data.

However, Thursday's court ruling means APCO can now pursue "about 35 incidents of unpaid fuel" through civil proceedings. Mr Anderson hoped the case would set a precedent for other retailers in the same position.

"The policy is flawed. The issue with this is that police still consider it a crime to enter any other retail space – such as a shop or a supermarket – and take something without paying, yet it is not considered a crime to take petrol without paying, according to their new policy," he said.

"Although we are sympathetic with regards to police and their time, and want them dealing with more serious crime, this is an issue which can't be ignored. It's unsatisfactory to leave the industry in the lurch like this when we are willing to work with the police."

Victoria Police spokeswoman Leonie Johnson said police were unable to comment specifically about the court case.

However, a general statement released by Victoria Police stated that over "the past 12 months, we've discussed possible solutions with the petrol industry to minimise the number of petrol drive-offs committed each year".

Police spend approximately 18,000 hours a year investigating about 5000 petrol drive-off incidents.

Proposed solutions to fuel-payment evasion include mandatory pre-paid fuel pumps, which police believe would help cut drive-offs.

"We believe that drive-offs are preventable. If service station owners are prepared to take greater crime prevention measures, such as prepaid or pay at the pump, the incidence of drive-offs would be minimised," the statement said.

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