High prices cause drivers to run out of gas more

by Jeff Ferrell

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - High gas prices are leading some drivers to avoid filling-up until they absolutely have to, or until they find the right price.  That's creating another set of problems on the road.

Inside the Louisiana Department of Transportation's 'Traffic Management Center,' along Industrial Drive in Bossier City, operators dealt with 400-incidents alone last month, ranging from traffic advisories to crashes.  Every day a few of those incidents might be someone running out of gas.  And every so often it is a driver trying to quote, 'take advantage of the situation.'

TMC operators like Barry Williams constantly survey the 17-cameras LDOTD established nearly two years ago along the length of Interstate-20 through the entire Shreveport-Bossier metro area.

Williams described how he and fellow operators can quickly spot drivers running on fumes along I-20.  "A lot of them, they'll run up the shoulder and stay on the shoulder, just creep along and eventually they'll stop," described Williams.

That's when one of the three roving Motor Assistance Patrol (MAP) vans gets the call.  "Just seems to be more often now that the gas prices are up," estimated MAP van driver Steve Wilkinson.  We caught up with Wilkinson Wednesday afternoon on the shoulder of I-20, as he helped a stranded motorist.

Wilkinson said there's been a handful of commuters who seem to run out of gas a lot, just to get that free gallon of gas from a MAP van.  "We all do a pretty good job of, you know, writing the license plate numbers down and we keep track of it.  We let each other know what the vehicle description is and stuff like that."

MAP van drivers also make a quick check.  "First of all, we check and make sure the vehicle's going to turn over and start before we ever give them anything," continued Wilkinson.  Mostly, he and other drivers often hear the same story from commuters whose tanks run dry, like they were on their way to fill-up, or they had to get to work.

And running out of gas can be dangerous.  Supervisor Keith Tindell with the LDOTD warned, "you don't want to stop in a travel lane if at all possible.  And then, call 911, especially if you're in a hazardous situation."

One of the things that LDOTD officials don't want people to come away with from this story is that they can get away with calling for help and getting a free gallon of gas.  They said that strategy won't work; at least more than once.

KSLA News 12 is also told that drivers who repeatedly run out of gas along Interstate 20 are typically given a warning by a MAP van driver.  The warning, we're told, goes something like this:  The next time it happens they'll call the police instead of giving you that free gallon of gas.