British petrol stations target fuel thieves with tyre spikes
Owners of petrol stations in Britain are increasingly installing tyre-spikes on forecourts to stop drivers escaping without paying their bills.
Reports said a sharp rise in what is known in the industry as "drive-aways" was being linked to escalating fuel prices in recent months, dpa reported.
Britain's Petrol Retailers' Association said drive-aways cost the industry more than 11 million pounds (22 million dollars) in 2006, but the losses were likely to have grown significantly over the last year.
When a car attempts to move away from the pump without paying, a sensor will alert the cashier to activate the "stinger" device. Red lights flashing warning signs and loudspeaker announcements alert drivers that their tyres will be destroyed if they attempt to leave.
"Do not enter the forecourt when the red lights are flashing," the warning signs tell new arrivals.
Any driver who ignores the warning will trigger a row of metal spikes as the front wheels pass over pressure pads.
The spikes, embedded at the entrance as well as the exit, spring up and penetrate the rear wheels, deflating them in about ten seconds.
The system leaves a metal tube with a unique identification number embedded in the tyre.
The tube allows police to link the vehicle with the theft and prevents the tyre from being reinflated with roadside repair kits which seal the puncture.
Mukesh Patel, the owner of a petrol station near Finsbury Park, North London, installed the Drivestop system last month after losing more than 5,000 pounds in drive-away thefts in the past year.
"More people are attempting it with the high cost of fuel and we have been getting at least one a week," he told the Times. But since the notices about the spikes went up last month, there haven't been any drive-aways."
Patel believes the system, which cost 10,000 pounds to install, will pay for itself in two years.
The system was invented by Jaginda Singh, whose family-owned petrol station was almost driven out of business by fuel theft, the Times said.
"My father used to sit on the forecourt writing down number plates but the thieves would just use fake ones. I decided to build a system which speaks the only language these people understand," said Singh.
The only attempt so far to drive over the spikes occurred in New Eltham, southeast London, last month.
The thief drove 100 metres down the road on punctured tyres before abandoning the car, which turned out to have been stolen.