Filling stations across the UK have been hit by more than 25,000 incidents of fuel thefts in the last year, new figures have revealed.
The number of motorists filling up without paying for their fuel was revealed by police forces around the country following a freedom of information request by insurance website Confused.com.
In total, 25,560 fuel thefts were committed in 2015 and the West Midlands was the worst-hit region, with more than 4,000 cases of drivers filling and running - a practice known as “bilking”.
A related poll of 2,000 people, conducted by Confused.com, revealed that almost one in 10 drivers admitted to having driven off without paying for fuel.
Of those who have filled and fled more than one in 10 decided to hightail it as they had no means of paying for their fuel.
However, not all fuel thefts are intentional, it seems. Three-quarters of people who have driven off without paying appear to have done it accidentally. Almost a fifth said they simply forgot to pay.
But admitting they’d done it and making reparations are two different things, with just over half returning immediately to settle their bill.
Of those people who have driven off without paying for their fuel, a fifth were contacted by the police to ensure their bill was paid while 16 per cent were fined for committing the offence.
Although fuel prices are still lower than at this time last year they have been creeping up since the start of 2016, with motorist paying an average 9p per litre more now than in January.
The research shows motorists now pay £119 a month on average to fill up their car while seven per cent spend as much as £200 a month to keep their cars running.
And in light of this nearly 10 per cent of those polled said they could understand why some people fuelled and ran as they think fuel is too expensive.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, said: “It’s quite worrying to find out how many people across the UK have filled up their vehicle and driven off without paying for their fuel.
“And it’s even more shocking to see that some motorists intentionally commit petrol theft.
“With petrol prices having risen in the last three months, it may be understandable why many may begrudge paying these prices.
“Yet despite these rising costs, petrol theft is a criminal offence and there are severe repercussions including being arrested and charged for theft.”