Research conducted by the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) has shown that the number of people driving off without paying for their gas has tripled. This figure has increased dramatically in the last 12 months, indicating that the recession is biting down hard in Ireland as people struggle to pay the bills.

However, the CSNA with 175 members represents just a fraction of the gas stations in Ireland, and the problem could be much worse than previously thought. With the price of oil rising, one gallon at a gas station can average out at $6.06.  

CSNA's chief executive, Vincent Jennings says that the average petrol station is losing more than $6,000 a year. 

"I owned petrol stations for 27 years and we had-at the very worst, one "drive off" a month" he said, adding that the recession has played a major factor in the increase in drive offs.

 "One of our members lost over $250,000 last year. That’s a very substantial amount of money to lose. It's gone up three-fold over the last 12 months."

Declan Harkin, owner of a gas station in Raheen, Co Limerick, has said things are getting "worse and worse". 

“In my own station, the amount of "drive-offs" has doubled in the last year. I have several every week and they are filling the car to the brim and disappearing.

“With the recession now, the amounts are getting bigger and it's happening more frequently. I have had to close down the pump I had closest to the exit, but they have just moved to another pump now."

It is a common site to see warning signs in every gas station around the country, "car registrations recorded on CCTV," and "please do not forget to pay for your petrol."

That may act as a deterrent to some but, according to Harkin, the Gardai are unwilling to prosecute as they do not see it as a serious crime.

It was also revealed today that over 4,000 Irish people have being jailed for not paying fines. This figure has also doubled in the last 12 months and now accounts for 25 per cent of the total prison population.

"The really annoying thing is that this is going unpunished by Gardai because they don't see it as a serious crime and they ignore it. It's a waste of everybody's time because usually nothing comes of it."

 Gardai declined to comment on the growing problem of "drive offs" but did encourage the public to "report any incidences they are aware of".

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