A proposal by state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon would phase in self-service fuel pumps in New Jersey, poking one of the first holes in a tradition that’s as uniquely “Jersey” as the roadside diner or Lucy the Elephant.
O’Scanlon’s bill, announced Friday, would decriminalize the act of pumping one’s own gas and provide for self-service islands at New Jersey’s gas stations. Each facility would be required to operate at least one island of full service pumps for three years following enactment, and the bill also allows for gas retailers to charge a lesser price for self-service gasoline.
The reasoning for the prohibition on pumping one’s own gas dates back to the 1949 law that made self-service illegal in the first place. The law states that because of the “fire hazard directly associated with dispensing fuel,” the practice should be left to attendants who know not to smoke around pumps and can advise motorists to turn off their engines prior to fueling up. Since then, the real story has emerged in several venues of why it was made illegal, namely, to keep prices higher after a station owner decided to discount his fuel to those who would pump it themselves. The full story was retold by Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine last year.
New Jersey is one of two states – the other is Oregon – that prohibits pumping one’s own gas. There, the debate has centered around retaining jobs for attendants. A proposal is currently on the table in Oregon to allow rural counties to convert to self-service. Even in New Jersey, there are already some instances where the full service law does not apply. Diesel fuel can be pumped by a driver, and on the water, it is standard (and legal) practice for boaters to fill their own tanks using the same pumps and nozzles that are used to fill the tanks of cars.
O’Scanlon said the safety argument just doesn’t hold water.
“I am offended by people that argue that New Jerseyans are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire,” he said in a statement issued on the bill.
O’Scanlon jokingly said he would insert language into the bill that would require gas stations to put a warning label in bright neon colors on each pump saying, “Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, set yourself on fire!”
“I think that should resolve these concerns,” he said.
The effort to allow self-service, which has bi-partisan support, may not necessarily prove popular. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll conducted in 2012 showed 63 percent of Garden State residents wanted to maintain full service.