Why Can’t You Pump Your Own Gas in New Jersey?

iStock
iStock

New Jersey is a state that distinguishes itself in so many ways. One example of New Jersey's unique charm may come as a surprise to visiting motorists, however, when they discover that it's illegal to pump your own gas in the Garden State.

Until quite recently, New Jersey wasn't the only state that didn't allow motorists to pump their own gas. For years, Oregon drivers had to sit in their cars as well, waiting for an attendant to fill ‘er up. However, effective January 1, 2016, Oregonians in rural counties are allowed to dispense their own gasoline at night. The measure was designed to keep motorists from getting stranded in remote areas after gas station staff had gone home for the night—a very real problem in the state’s sprawling terrain.

But let’s get back to New Jersey, a state that has made it illegal for people to pump their own gas. Why is this the case?

Enacted in 1949, the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations banned drivers from pumping their own gas in New Jersey, and the rules are still in effect. Like so many laws, the statute claims the ban is for drivers’ own good:

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, including turning off vehicle engines and refraining from smoking while fuel is dispensed.

But the government version may not be the whole story. The passage of the Act was motivated by something a little less pure than safety: money. In the 1940s, when self-service was unheard of in most of the country, a gas station owner named Irving Reingold offered lower prices to customers willing to pump their own gas. The gimmick was wildly popular and soon became a threat to competing gas stations. According to Bergen County's The Record, "rival station owners reacted by persuading state lawmakers to outlaw self-serve," and the state legislature made Reingold's tactics illegal.

As more and more states around the country began to offer self-serve gas stations in the 1970s and '80s, New Jersey stayed put. Nowadays, some politicians will even refer to the matter as a source of state identity and pride. In a 2011 radio interview, Governor Chris Christie said, "People in New Jersey love the idea that they’ve got somebody to pump their gas," adding, "I don’t see that changing."

In 2015, New Jersey General Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon introduced a bill that would lift the ban. “I am offended by people that argue that New Jerseyans are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire," O'Scanlon said in a press statement.

O'Scanlon made one semi-concession to the old law, recommending that stations hang signs on gas pumps reminding people to turn off their engines. The recommended text seemed to mirror the assemblyman’s exasperation: “Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, set yourself on fire!!”

Despite this helpful suggestion, O’Scanlon’s bill was not to be, as State Senate President Stephen Sweeney blocked the vote. "I will oppose any attempt to rescind the law that has effectively served the best interests of the state's motorists for decades," Sweeney said in a press statement. "As long as I am Senate President, the ban on self-serve will stay in place."

"We've been doing it the right way in New Jersey,” Sweeney concluded. “We should not change."

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What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

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