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[April 30, 2011]
Calls for emergency gas help triple as pump prices rise
Apr 29, 2011 (The Dallas Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Rising gas prices have pushed some drivers to gamble with their fuel gauges. Unfortunately, many of them are losing the bet.
Emergency calls for gas by stranded motorists have tripled in recent weeks as pump prices skyrocket, a supervisor with the Dallas County Sheriff's Courtesy Patrol said.
"People who wouldn't normally run out of gas have started to run out of it," said Guy Chamberlain. "When the gas was under $3, they could afford it. Now, they can't. It's small cars, it's brand-new BMWs, it's brand-new Mercedes." As gas inches toward the $4 a gallon mark, he said, "A lot of people think they've got another 20 to 25 miles when the fuel light comes on, and that's not always true." A spokesman for AAA Texas said that agency has seen a 5 percent increase in requests statewide for emergency gas from members -- but that translates to 1,600 more calls.
"We tell folks when you get down to a quarter of tank, go put gas in your car. But people are just trying to stretch, stretch, stretch," said AAA spokesman Dan Ronan. "They're trying to run it down to the last possible drop." Both Ronan and Chamberlain said the free gas provided is usually enough to get the stranded driver to a gas station or their intended destination. For AAA, that amounts to $9 worth of gas. It's free to AAA Plus members, while or basic members must pay the $9, Ronan said.
Chamberlain said Dallas County typically gives drivers a gallon of gas, although some cars require double that amount to get restarted.
For now, even with the increase in gas prices, Chamberlain said Dallas County has enough "wiggle room" in the budget to provide emergency gas. But he said officials are monitoring what they provide.
That includes cracking down on the rising number of scam artists who try to take advantage of the program, he said.
"When a gas stop is made, they put that plate number in the computer," Chamberlain said. "If that plate number comes up again in the computer within three months, we flag it. If you're running out of gas more often then that, then you probably aren't real smart." Officials in Tarrant County say they've also noticed an increase in gas calls to their courtesy patrol and, like Dallas County, they are on the lookout for scams.
But Terry Grisham, a spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, said the patrol's primary purpose for providing emergency gas is highway safety.
"It's very important to keep the freeways clear of obstructions," he said.
According to fuelgaugereport.com, which AAA uses to check gas prices, Dallas' average price Thursday was $3.82 a gallon. That's up from $2.74 a year ago.
Chamberlain said the spike in calls for gas help is the most severe he has seen in his seven years with the courtesy patrol -- and he expects it to get worse, especially with summer right around the corner.
"Everything is worse in the summer," he said. "Overheated cars, batteries go out because of the heat, tires blow out because of being over-inflated. And we can't leave people in a hot car. So we'll take them somewhere where they can get cool." Grisham isn't surprised at the surge in requests for help. He said that when gas prices approached $4 a gallon about three years ago, Tarrant County officials noticed a spike in requests then, too.
"As the price of gas goes up, I guarantee you that our calls for gas will go up," Grisham said. "Unfortunately, a gallon of gas lasts the same distance whether it cost $4 a gallon or $2.50 a gallon." Dallas County Sheriff's Courtesy Patrol: 214-320-4444 Tarrant County Sheriff's Courtesy Patrol: 817-370-6656 Also, there is a toll-free number on the back of all Texas drivers' licenses that can be used for roadside assistance.
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