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Fuming Over Prices, More Drivers Running on Fumes

June 16, 2008

By Jonathon Braden, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Jun. 16–Rosemary Lind used to fill her gas tank full each time she stopped for fuel, no matter the price.

Now, with gas prices rising and fluctuating daily, the Omaha resident has changed her fueling habits.

“I don’t fill up each time,” Lind said last week while getting gas at a QuikTrip on Saddle Creek Road. “I never look at how many gallons. I just look at the cost.”

Although their reasons may vary, Lind and some other drivers are pumping less gas in their vehicles during fuel stops. The choice can be a risky one, though. More motorists are finding themselves stranded along busy roadways, creating dangerous situations.

“A lot of motorists are changing their habits,” said Rose White, spokesperson for AAA. “Rather than filling up a full tank, they’re filling up more frequently.”

AAA’s fuel delivery service received 9 percent more calls from motorists for the first five months this year than during the same period last year.

In 2007, AAA received 442 fuel delivery calls from January to May. For the same period this year, 475 motorists have called from the roadside in need of gas.

“We feel that it’s certainly partially due to the higher fuel prices,” White said.

Overall numbers have fallen since 2006, though. White credits the decrease to a AAA safety campaign during the summer of 2006.

Gas station attendants also have noticed drivers altering their fuel routines. Anthony Tucker, who works at the BP station at 40th and Dodge Streets, said many drivers don’t fill up their tanks.

“I had one last night for $1.50,” said Tucker, 20.

Some customers tell Tucker they can’t afford to fill up, so they’ll pump all their bank account allows, which may be as little as $2 or $3.

Daniel Richard, 25, of Omaha, said he adds $10 worth of gas at a time, even if it results in pumping gas more than once a day.

Rick Nice, operations manager for AAA Nebraska, said most of the motorists who called for help because they ran out of gas said they weren’t paying attention to their fuel gauges. Others, Nice said, were hoping to make it until payday or were in a hurry and thought they had enough gas to get to their destinations.

Driving with low fuel can be risky, Nice said, especially on an Interstate. “It’s dangerous for all parties,” Nice said.

On June 1, a Glenwood, Iowa, man was hit and killed along Interstate 29 while putting gas in a minivan that belonged to a friend who called him for help.

Nice advised stranded motorists to pull over as far as possible, turn on their flashers and wait for emergency services to arrive.

Some drivers are not changing their pumping habits, though.

Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol said troopers have seen the usual one or two stranded motorists a week.

Michael Skillman of Omaha wasn’t stopping his gas pump at the BP station. “When I fill up, I fill up all the way,” the 51-year-old said. “You gotta have gas.”

Lind, who used to fill her vehicles’ tanks full, said she’s not too worried about running out of gas. She has roadside assistance to help if she does.

Plus, the sight of $35 to $40 on the gas pump bothers her.

“Well, it just hurts.” Lind said. “I just look in the car and see what I have.”

–Contact the writer: 444-1138, jonathon.braden@owh.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

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