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Oregonians Aren't Pumped About New Law Allowing Self-Service Gas Stations

A filling station attendant pumps gas in Portland, Ore., in 2012. A new law took effect this week allowing motorists in some rural counties in Oregon to pump their own gas.
Rick Bowmer
A filling station attendant pumps gas in Portland, Ore., in 2012. A new law took effect this week allowing motorists in some rural counties in Oregon to pump their own gas.

Many Oregonians were outraged this week when a new law took effect allowing motorists in rural counties to pump their own gas, representing a shift in the state's decades-long history of requiring an attendant to pump gas for drivers.

As of Jan. 1, gas stations in counties with a population of less than 40,000 are permitted to offer self-service. While the change in the law is expected to affect a small number of people, Oregonians took to social media to express their discontent – and were subsequently mocked by residents of the other 48 states that allow self-service. New Jersey is the only other state that prohibits drivers from pumping their own gas.

It makes sense for these rural counties to allow self-service because there are so few motorists on the road, especially at night, Lizzy Acker, a reporter for The Oregonian, tells Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti.

"We're talking about really rural counties," she says. "If you live in one of these places, it doesn't make sense to have someone working at a gas station all night when there might not be anyone showing up."

Since 1951, Oregon law has required all gas stations to have attendants; but for the past two years, stations in certain rural counties have been permitted to offer self-service from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"I think a lot of people are still going to just keep it going the way it is because Oregonians, for better or for worse, we are traditional people," Acker says. "We stand by our traditions since 1951 when this law passed ."

But much of the outcry on social media didn't call on tradition. The responses to a now-viral Facebook post by a local TV station ranged from concerns about smelling like gasoline to being attacked by drifters lurking around stations. Some said they didn't even know how to pump gas.

"I don't even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian ... I say NO THANKS! I don't like to smell like gasoline!" one woman commented on the post.

"No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help," another woman wrote. "Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe too. This is a very bad idea. Grr."

Acker says she filmed a video to help her fellow Oregonians learn how to pump gas, noting the danger in wildly spraying it in the air like in the movie Zoolander.

Some of the concerns weren't completely dramatic. In fact, Disability Rights Oregon pointed out that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires self-service gas stations to assist customers with disabilities.

While many respondents claimed they were joking, the sarcasm was lost on many who criticized Oregonians for not wanting to or not knowing how to pump their own gas.

"Man. It's like those people in infomercials who can't perform menial tasks," one man wrote on the Facebook post. " 'Do you have trouble pumping your own gas?' *guy grabs pump handle and sprays himself in the face* 'Then do we have a state for YOU!' "

Proponents of the bill argue it won't cost the state jobs because stations with convenience stores are still required to employ attendants during business hours. Only a handful of gas station owners surveyed by The Bend Bulletinsaid they plan to offer self-service. Many owners said they would have to install new pumps in order to allow it.

"I think that we are getting tarnished in social media," Acker says, "and I think most Oregonians are self-sufficient enough to figure out how to pump their own gas."

Luckily, most of them won't have to learn.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.