Photo by hugovk. CC Licensed.

A service station was prosecuted yesterday for “under-measuring” the amount of petrol and diesel going into cars. It was the first ever successful prosecution for this behaviour. The punishment? A fine of 14,000 euro.

For a long time, I have wondered if the amount of petrol going into my car was really the quantity represented in those rapidly whizzing numbers on the pump’s display. The answer, in many cases, may well be “probably not”.

Why wouldn’t petrol station owners mess around with their pumps if the fines are so trivial? Why wouldn’t this be a major problem in the state if yesterday saw the first ever successful prosecution? The message seems to have been to do whatever you like – you will get away with it.

The National Standards Agency inspected 8,000 petrol stations last year, giving out over 2,000 warnings to owners who had their pumps calibrated incorrectly. Two thousand warnings! Just how much money did this translate to? Did the errors go both ways, or just one way? I would love to see the results of a statistical analysis checking if the errors are random, or if they are biased in any way. Such a study would clearly indicate if widespread fraud was taking place.

If I were to walk into a shop and accidentally walk out of it carrying an ice-cream I had not bought, I might well end up in court. Upon conviction I would have a criminal record. It’s a crime to defraud people out of money. The same standard should apply to business owners.

Owners of petrol stations should be criminally liable for the accuracy of their petrol pumps. If their equipment is not working correctly, it should be their primary concern to fix it immediately. If, following a first inspection, favourable errors are discovered, fines should follow, relating directly to the amount of money the pumps may have taken from customers. Subsequent favourable discoveries should be referred to the DPP. Anything else is a travesty.

(Photo “Competing” by hugovk / Flickr / CC Licensed)