Running on empty

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff07/11/2008
July 11, 2008

Connecticut drivers may be trying to stretch a gallon of gas too far as fuel prices continue their upward trend.

Allstate Motor Club is reporting a nearly 27 percent increase the first half of this year in the number of calls it received from state drivers running out of gas. Across the country, Allstate saw a 52 percent rise in people needing fuel between January and May.

While the roadside assistance service does not record people’s reasons for running out of gas, Allstate spokesman Brett Ludwig said anecdotal evidence shows people have been trying to fill up less or drive farther on a tank of gas because of the high price at the pump.

“One of the reasons we’re seeing this increase is due to the high cost of gas,” Ludwig said. “We think more drivers in Connecticut and across the country, they’re pushing it, and they’re driving when that needle is far to the left of the letter ‘E,’ and because of that their fuel is turning into fumes and they’re running out of gas.”

The average price of a gallon of gas in Greater New Haven was $4.36 Thursday, up from $3.16 a year ago, according to AAA.

From January to May, 57 people called Allstate for assistance after running out of gas in Connecticut, Ludwig said. That number was up from 45 in the first half of 2007.

State troopers have also noted a rise in the number of people stranded on the side of the road because of fuel issues, Lt. J. Paul Vance said.

The department does not have statistics on the phenomenon, because it groups together gas problems with flat tires and other malfunctions, but Vance said he has noticed an uptick in gas-related problems.

“You can hear it on the police radio, more often than not now where people are running out of fuel,” he said. “It’s more of an embarrassment than not when you run out of gas, and I think no one wants to admit the reason behind it. … We see what we’re seeing a little bit more than we did in the past.”

But AAA Connecticut spokeswoman Fran Mayko said her office has not seen a similar rise in calls.

“It’s funny because we haven’t seen that at all,” Mayko said. “There are people that do run out of gas – what the reasons are, we’re not sure, but it’s not linked to the gas situation and we haven’t seen an increase.”

Motor clubs like Allstate and AAA offer services that include roadside assistance and delivery of gas in an emergency.

Ludwig said that Allstate will call a nearby service station that will deliver “enough gas to get you where you’re going,” typically a couple of gallons. AAA’s program is similar, although some customers pay per gallon for the gas they receive.

“It’s not like we’re going to come out and fill up your tank by the side of the road,” Ludwig said.

With the rise in stranded drivers, police and commercial operations are advising people about the dangers of running out of gas and having to wait on the side of the road. Vance said state troopers often come across people who have run out of gas and “try to get them out of harm’s way.”

“Simply being stopped on the interstate highway system, even on the shoulder, can in and of itself be dangerous because of the volume of traffic,” he said. “The safe thing to do is make sure you put a little gas in there and make sure you have enough to complete your journey.”

According to Ludwig, “The summertime is typically a time when your fuel evaporates a little bit quicker when it’s warmer out. I think you see people trying to push their cars the same every season (and they) might end up running out of gas.”

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