Since January 1, Oregon drivers in rural counties have been allowed to pump their own gas. It’s a small concession in a law that’s been in place since 1951, according to NPR.
Oregon and New Jersey are the only states in the union with bans on self-service at the pump. Despite their “progressive” politics, many Oregonians are clinging to tradition and anxious about the change. KTLA compiled comments from panicked Oregon residents, whom the Internet mocked mercilessly.
One commenter wrote, “I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian……I say NO THANKS! I don’t want to smell like gasoline!”
Another objector stated, “I’ve lived in this state all my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas. I had to do it once in California while visiting my brother and almost died doing it. This [sic] a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas. I can’t even.”
Still another complained about “transients around and not feeling safe” while pumping gas. Some amateur satirists seized on the opportunity, of course. This harrowing self-service fantasy is from Kozy A Pivo:
I’ll never forget the first time I had to pump my own gas. I had to fight off a bear that was standing in front of the pump. Then, I endured a hail of bullets from enemy sniper fire while trying to swipe my card. When I pulled the pump handle from the docking station, it set off a series of booby traps, and the next thing I knew I was in my own version of Tomb Raider. Once I was done, a group of transients chased me in a tactical helicopter for miles because they wanted my tank of gas for making Nazi meth.
You Oregonians had it so easy.
According to The Bend Bulletin, “sundown to sun-up” self-service for rural areas has been legal since 2015. This new law allowing 24-hour self-service for counties with populations below 40,000 will affect relatively few Oregon residents. Retailers with markets or convenience stores still can’t offer self-service. The Bulletin also reported that most of the gas stations they contacted didn’t have plans to add self-service.
Bureaucrats’ Reactions Are Priceless, Too
The ban has been in place for almost 70 years, but a 1999 statute outlined 17 different reasons for why the ban should be kept, despite technological advances that have made self-pumping safer. It’s never too late for government officials to offer ridiculous reasons for keeping their archaic and onerous regulations, though. Their reasons will shock and amuse motorists of the other 48 self-serve states, who appear to be doing just fine. Here’s a summary of those reasons (some have been consolidated, so they don’t add up to 17):
- Properly trained “dispensers” of “Class 1 flammable liquids” reduce the risk of fire hazards. And having a fireman cook all my meals may help keep me from blowing up my kitchen, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary, or even preferable.
- “Appropriate safety standards” are often “unenforceable” at self-service stations because an employee isn’t overseeing the pump 100% of the time. Because it takes a “trained dispenser” to keep from lighting something on fire or spraying gas everywhere.
- “The dangers of crime and slick surfaces” because Oregon’s weather is “uniquely adverse”—as opposed to neighboring Washington, which has basically the same weather and we pump our gas just fine—which leads to “higher liability insurance rates”
- Exposure to toxic fumes is a “health hazard.” According to Healthline, pumping gas “isn’t generally harmful,” but “long-term exposure in the open can also damage your lungs.” So naturally, we’ll mandate a job where attendants do exactly the same thing as individuals who pump for themselves, with no special hazmat gear, and they’ll inhale dozens more times the fumes each day, which is totally fine and not hazardous at all?
- The “typical practice” of charging higher prices for full-service fuel dispensing “discriminates” against low-income, the elderly and handicapped people. Apparently the entire concept of money discriminates against poor people, who apparently also can’t pump their own gas. Being poor is like being physically handicapped, of course.
- Self-service means employees will check the pumps less often, leading to “neglect of maintenance.” Because everyone knows if you don’t check the pump every ten minutes it will explode. This will lead to “costly repairs.” Because clearly the morons who want to pump their own gas will damage the pumps, and the damage will outweigh the cost of keeping an attendant on duty at all hours.
- “The increased use of self-service at retail in other states has contributed to diminishing the availability of automotive repair facilities at gasoline stations.” Is this shift in business models even mildly harmful to anyone at all?
- Self-service dispensing at retail in other states does not provide a sustained reduction in fuel prices. Finally, a decent reason. According to AAA, in 2016 gas averaged $1.95 a gallon in Oregon and $1.65 in New Jersey, compared to $2.07 in Washington and $2.17 in Nevada. Still, Oregon State University economist Patrick Emerson maintains this is a poor counter-factual because of confounding factors like length of pipelines and state regulations. He estimated the no-pumping rule costs residents 3 to 5 cents more per gallon and has argued from basic economics that eliminating the cost of gas attendants will drive the cost down, since the gas market is highly competitive.
- The prohibition “promotes public welfare by providing increased safety and convenience (because waiting for the gas attendant is super convenient) without causing economic harm” (because mandating an unnecessary labor cost is totally harmless to small businesses).
- “Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people.” By this logic, all entry-level service jobs, many of which are rapidly becoming obsolete, should be government-mandated.
- Self-service presents “unreasonable discomfort.” You know, like rolling the trash to the curb every week presents “unreasonable discomfort.” Why doesn’t Oregon mandate someone do that for you?
- The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-336, requires that equal access be provided to disabled persons at retail gasoline stations.” Every self-service station is in accordance with the law as long as they provide assistance upon request, unless the station is operated by a single individual.
- Children might be left in the car when customers leave to make payment, which rarely happens now that you can pay at the pump.
Infantilizing Mandates Erode Individual Responsibility
This law is not just based on unsound scientific and economic assertions, it’s infantilizing. I don’t mean that Oregonians are wusses or somehow less capable people than the rest of us, but rather that the government has engendered a dependency in an ordinary activity practically universal to adults, apart from which many residents have never lived.
Sure, most of us residents of 48 other states can sit here and mock Oregonians who’ve never pumped their own gas, but put yourself in their shoes. If you’re 62 and you’ve never pumped your own gas, you’d be a little dismayed at the prospect of someday having to do it. You’ve been raised in a community where pumping your own gas is as strange as having someone else pump it is strange to other Americans.
As Oregonian columnist Joseph Rose noted back in 2012, “Oregon can be a silly place. Self-serve suicide (with a physician’s assistance) is legal, but you still face a $500 fine for filling your own tank. But its residents get stubborn about tradition.” He gave what he called “the simplest answer” to why Oregon has kept their self-service ban: “Live here long enough, and you’ll find your own reasons to buy into what once seemed crazy.”
This is just another example of the power government has over our lives. It extends beyond merely dictating laws to us into shaping our very perception of how the world should work. The reason Oregonians are panicked over self-service gas is the same reason welfare programs hardly ever get cut. It’s the same reason applying for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is as ordinary as making a prenatal doctor’s appointment in many communities, and why most parents don’t think twice about sending their children to public school. It’s just how things are done.
Regardless of our personal preference at the pump, “It’s just how things work” or “it’s the law” should never be good enough, especially in light of how much “freedom” citizens might have in other areas. In addition to assisted suicide, Oregon has no restrictions on abortion. These are literal life-and-death issues, yet its residents can’t be trusted to pump their own gas. Is it a glitch in the Matrix or the result of a stifling, infantilizing worldview that says you can’t do things like raise a child or pump gas without the government’s help?
It’s time for Oregonians to wake up and smell the petroleum. Freedom is for those who want it.