Why Can't You Pump Your Own Gas in Oregon and New Jersey?

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My fellow Flossers Jason English & Chris Higgins will never know the joy of getting out of the car and filling their own tank. No, it's not mental deficiency or lack of opposable thumbs. They simply live in states where it's illegal to do so.

Jason lives in New Jersey, where the state legislature decided in 1949 that "because of the fire hazards directly associated with dispensing fuel, it is in the public interest that gasoline station operators have the control needed over that activity to ensure compliance with appropriate safety procedures."

Higgins lives in Oregon, where a similar law was passed in 1951, supported by a whopping 17 declarations rationalizing the prohibition of "any person other than the owner, operator or employee [of a dispensary where class 1 flammable liquids are dispensed at retail]" from using "pump, hose, pipe or other device for dispensing the liquids into the fuel tank of a motor vehicle or other retail container." Violating this law would get Higgins slapped with a $500 fine.

In plain English: New Jersey and Oregon don't trust people to not blow themselves up while pumping gas, and would rather leave the job to professionals (gas station attendants), who undergo rigorous training where they learn that it's bad to smoke while pumping gas, bad to leave the car running, and bad to put gas anywhere except a car's fuel tank or other approved containers.

gas-attendant.jpgWay back when, all gas stations were full-service. Then, first self-service station opened in California in 1947, and the idea caught on across the country. Only Oregon and New Jersey, for their litany of reasons (which you can read in full here and here), decided to keep doing things the old way.

That's all well and good, but pumping gas is a lot safer today, thanks to advances in both automobile and gas pump technology, and many people in both states think that its time for the ban on self-pumping (tee hee) to be lifted. Both laws have been challenged in court, and Oregon motorcyclists won a small victory in 2001 when a law was passed allowing them option of fueling their own bikes.

I live in Pennsylvania and don't own a car, so I'm largely indifferent to the matter. The self-serve bans seem a little silly and archaic, and I know from driving in Jersey that full-service can mean a long wait at the gas station. On the other hand, full-service gas stations create some jobs, and keep my co-bloggers warm when the tank is empty on a winter night. Where do you stand on the pumping debate?

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June 9, 2008 - 9:20am
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