Why can’t I pump my own gas in Oregon?

On a summer vacation road trip to the Northwest this week, I was reminded of one of the oddities of life in the United States. As you travel across borders, you encounter various levels of the nanny state, as administered by state politicians.

For example, only two states in the union will not give gas stations the freedom to let customers pump their own gas, Oregon and New Jersey. Pull up to any station in those states and someone will jump to your window before you have the chance to hop out. He or she will ask what type of gas you want and how much.

They don’t check your oil or tire pressure. They just pump gas, take your credit card and smile. Nice people, but is this really necessary, and how much more does it cost me?

Whenever I write about this, I typically get a lot of Oregonians defending their state’s unique law by waxing eloquent about how nice it is to get old-fashioned personal service. That isn’t the point.

I think it would be great if states would require radio stations to play those old Jack Benny shows or that newspapers have to be delivered by kids on bicycles, or that restaurants don’t let people serve themselves at salad bars. The problem is, in a free country it shouldn’t be OK for the government to tell businesses how to do business, unless health and safety are concerned.

This blog says the practice dates to 1951. Just about every state has a law or two on the books that exists only to preserve some sort of job. These are the ones that require a special license to braid hair, for example. They are ridiculous intrusions into the market.

Oregonians also will argue the law creates jobs for young people. That’s debatable. If government is forcing people to pay for jobs in markets that don’t really exist, you can be sure it’s also keeping jobs from being created in markets that do exist.

And while the cost of gas in Oregon isn’t out of line with that of neighboring states, it would be just plain silly to argue there isn’t a cost involved in this law. Someone is paying for this service.

If gas stations want to charge a bit more to give that personal touch, and if they think there is a market for that, more power to them. My guess is people don’t really want to pay for that. Why do Oregon and New Jersey force a market that doesn’t exist?

The Oregon law apparently classifies gasoline as a “class 1 flammable liquid.” You can’t have just anyone dealing with that stuff, except in their lawn mowers and boats, of course. But then, Oregon is a place where it’s legal to commit suicide, so long as you get a doctor to help you. That’s another one of those oddities.

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About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

15 comments

  1. jamie brown

    Mr. Evensen writes a trite, condescending blip. The self-serving credentials included are more than this mere mortal can stomach. What is really at issue here when it comes to Oregon?? Someone pumping your gas, or a thinly veiled attempt to slam assisted suicide? If you decide to leave the Desert News, I’m sure Fox News has an opening for one as talented as yourself.

    • Ronald Keyser Jr.

      Was that supposed to be a slam on the author ?? I would think going from any news agency in Oregon to Fox news would be a step up in the world .He probably gets tired of being surrounded by a bunch of sniffling snot nosed anti American cry baby liberals who want assisted Murder, free dope for pain and everyone who is to lazy to get up and get a job to be entitled to welfare and or social security disability. When I was a kid growing up we all thought of Oregon as The oregon trail, the pacific Northwest, fishing and hunting, logging and the mountains.Hell most of John Wayne movie ever filmed by him were filmed in central eastern Oregon .Let me tell you the O

  2. Abby Cohen

    I have lived in Oregon for 12 years and have not been shocked by the stupidity of the Oregonian socialists. What really was surprising is that they were given a chance to change this ridiculous custom by offering the option of pumping your own gas on the 1982 ballot. Unfortunately, it was voted down by the retarded constituency. In 2003, a bill was introduced in the Oregon legislature to allow self service gas pumps but never got enough legislative votes. When I lived in Massachusetts, I thought that was the far left until I moved to Oregon. Yes, I’m moving out of this state . . too much insanity in this state!

  3. Charles Larsen

    Getting gas up there is a nightmare. During busy times, the “gas pumpers” do not have time to get to everyone, so you just wait, and wait, and wait, and they don’t even wash your windshield or anything. It is just ridiculous and stupid.

  4. Dave

    As you mentioned, welcome to the Nanny State. You can only drive 65 on the freeways, you can’t pump your own gas, and the inmates are in charge of the asylum when it comes to state and most local government. It truly is Massachusetts On The Pacific.

  5. maddy

    I suppose Oregonians would change the law if they opposed it. (btw the Oregon state legislature is currently evenly split between Republicans and Democrats–Democrats have a two vote majority in the Senate but the Assembly consists of 30 from each party). One interesting question, applicable to every state that has self-service gas, what do the disabled do?

    On the other hand, Utah’s liquor laws appear peculiar–and complex.

    To each his own peculiarities?

  6. Aaron S

    Interesting, that in these 2 states it is ILLEGAL for you to pump your own gas for your car because it’s dangerous. A car that will take a couple of minutes and 12-18 gal, and upwards of 22-30 for SUV’s and pick-ups (not trucks for you city people).

    But us truck drivers HAVE to fill our own trucks, semi’s that is, anywhere from 100-300 galons at a time, everyday to every other day (500 miles a day, 5 mpg = 100 gals a day)

    So ‘how’ is that safer? Personally, I wouldn’t let someone else gas my car, letting the gas cap drop along the fender scratching the paint, or slobbering gas from the nozzle down my fender, no thanks. If you don’t know how to check your tire’s air pressure, or check oil, to petty to wash your own windows, then you arent smart and mature enough to drive.

    …And when I do run through Jersey and Oregon, I DO NOT put in fuel from those states…Just the way it is

  7. Bob

    Vermont is a state that lets people pump their own gas, it also has numerous “full service” stations. So that kind of puts a crimp in the contention that repealing this law would cause an end to “good old fashioned service”. In fact they actually check your oil, tire pressure, and wash the windshields and the extra cost is in the way of tips not a few cents snuck onto the gallon. I couldn’t agree more with your article.

  8. Ronald Keyser Jr.

    Was that supposed to be a slam on the author ?? I would think going from any news agency in Oregon to Fox news would be a step up in the world .He probably gets tired of being surrounded by a bunch of sniffling snot nosed anti American cry baby liberals who want assisted Murder, free dope for pain and everyone who is to lazy to get up and get a job to be entitled to welfare and or social security disability. When I was a kid growing up we all thought of Oregon as The oregon trail, the pacific Northwest, fishing and hunting, logging and the mountains.Hell most of John Wayne movie ever filmed by him were filmed in central eastern Oregon .Let me tell you the Oregon of today is a far far far cry from the Oregon I knew as a child and so is the washington of today .Sadly Oregon and Washington was invaded by a bunch of tresspassing southern California hippy liberals who turned there state into a garbage heap and then moved up here to use our states up and burn it out to the garbage heap it is now . I ask anyone who is a born in Oregon and Washington to tell me that these 2 states are anything like they were at one time ?? I am embarrassed to see what we 2 states have become .A big nasty southern California think tank for the people who jumped ship there back in the day .

  9. Peter Vey

    As an Oregonian, I can assure all of you, that we hate thos law too. Who wants sum flunky spilling gas down the side of their car? Anyone who likea this law is not a fan of nostalgia, or is an automotive enthusiast. And the the statement about jobs not existing where they should be, couldn’t be more true.

  10. J

    I personally HATE the gas pumping law in Oregon. Here are my reasons:
    1. The attendant has forgotten to put my $45 gas cap back on my car. I then came back to the gas station later and they said they gave it to someone else who didn’t have a gas cap because they didn’t know who it belonged to.
    2. I have had gas spilled all over my car.
    3. Service is usually VERY slow, I’ve waited 20 minutes before.
    4. They are not friendly and don’t smile, they work at a gas station, I wouldn’t be happy either.
    5. They have broken the little metal spring loaded door that protects my gas tank, now it is floating around in my gas tank and could potentially cause a lot of damage to my $25,0000 vehicle.
    But it is illegal to put gas in my own car that I worked hard to pay for. What a joke of a law and I don’t like on the west side of the mountains where its all rainy, half of the state is a high desert with minimal amounts of rain but most of the population lives west of the mountains so they get to decide for everyone. What a stupid outdated law. And, if I want to pump my own gas to protect my car I get fined $500. Why aren’t the attendants getting fined for damaging my vehicle. I HATE THIS LAW!!!!!

    • Alena Cobbler

      I can see why you are upset at the law being around. lol. A lot of people like it, especially in the rain or cold. ha. I am sorry you’ve experienced some bad service, I always tell the station immediately if their clerk needs to do a much better job.

  11. Robert Bridgeville

    Most people in progressive states like NJ and OR like it just fine. Leave it alone. Works just fine and you don’t have to smell like gasoline.

  12. Jorge Sanchez

    One point missing about a typical result of communism: You always end up waiting in line for your rations. I’ve been to every state in the Union except Alaska…and even when there are 15 cars lined up at the cheap gas station at rush hour in the big cities of capitalist states, it doesn’t take as long to get gas as it typically does in Oregon. I don’t blame the workers (very few of them teens as intended above, especially at Costco where you’ve often got a couple retirees running back and forth around the 20 pumps deeply inhaling the fumes and looking a few breaths short of a heart attack). Man, my wife says I’m so patient with people that it gets on their nerves, but when I’m passing through Oregon I get so angry about being the first in my aisle and still having to wait 15-30 minutes before my gas tank is filled (maybe this is why people from new jersey seem to be constantly impatient/frustrated/yelling/honking)… It really isn’t worth the no sales tax perk, if only there was a better way to get between Washington and California…oh and I really enjoy the speed traps and super low speed limits too

  13. Chris

    If that’s how Oregon wants it, then that’s how they want it. State Legislatures are usually more in tune with their constituents due to a smaller number than those in DC who have whole states yelling at them. I know I don’t like it when people come into my state and complain about how we do things and then leave 2 week later. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. What surprised me was when I went to Florida and they had booze next to the soda. It’s an odd law yes but all states have odd laws on the books. Many are out dated from early statehood but yes, they are still on the books and still legally to ticket for swearing on a Sunday or spitting on a sidewalk.

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