Petrol Politics


illustrations by Paul Harris

In 1951, Oregon enacted a statewide ban that prohibited self-serve gas. Oregon joined New Jersey, the only other state that prohibits patrons from pumping their own gas. The rationale written into the law encompasses everything from potential higher insurance rates for gas companies to the dangers of “crime and slick surfaces.” In 1982, Oregonians tried unsuccessfully to repeal this law. Who pumps citizens’ gas remains a perennial cause for some Oregonians who hope to repeal it and join the other forty-eight states with self-serve gas stations.


Steve Buckstein
Senior Policy Analyst and Founder, Cascade Policy Institute

You’ll set yourself on fire! That, in effect, is the first reason listed in Oregon statutes to ban self-serve gas. Of course, drivers in forty-eight other states would beg to differ.

The three most popular arguments for the ban seem to be: I don’t want to pump my own gas, so you can’t either; the ban keeps people employed; attendant compensation doesn’t raise our gas prices anyway.

First, I don’t want to pump my own gas, but that doesn’t give me the right to prohibit you from pumping yours.
Second, while creating jobs is good, “make-work programs” often misallocate resources, making our economy poorer rather than richer.

And third, if labor costs have no impact on prices, then why not mandate one attendant for every pump, another to clean every windshield, and a third to put air in every tire? Lots of jobs would be created at apparently no cost to consumers. What could go wrong?

One out-of-state visitor suggests Oregon could create even more jobs with three simple laws: outlaw direct-dial phones, prohibit self-service elevators, and ban word processor programs. Just think of all the operator and secretarial jobs that would open up.

Seriously, we’re beyond feeling sorry for all the blacksmiths and buggy whip makers put out of work with the advent of our modern horseless carriages. We now need lots of auto and diesel mechanics, who earn good money.

Jobs should add more value to the economy than they consume. Therefore, less productive jobs must be replaced by more productive ones. Often, this means replacing muscle power with brain power. It’s time we got on with the process and ended Oregon’s prohibition of self-serve gas.

If that results in more human immolations, we’ll just have to hire more firefighters!


Phil Hirl
Former engineer for the U.S. Forest Service

I have lived in Oregon for most of my life, and so has my wife, except for the five years we lived in Redding, California. So we are accustomed to having someone else pump our gas.

I like that Oregonians do not have pump-their-own gas. I think many other Oregonians feel the same way, because we have voted more than once to keep this law. I have several reasons.

It rains a lot here in Oregon. I don’t like pumping gas in the rain. The same is true for cold weather. It’s nice to stay in a dry, warm car while someone else pumps your gas.

I also don’t think gas would be cheaper if we pumped our own. Self-serve gas in both California and Washington costs more, most of the time.

Pumping your own gas can be dirty and smelly. My work took me up to Olympia. One time while I was pumping gas in the company car, it splashed out on my clothes. I walked into the meeting smelling of gas.

When I do have to pump my own, hopefully my wife is with me because it seems every station has a different pay system. Most of the time I need her help to figure out how each one works.

We have a son who lives near Olympia. When we go there we try to leave home with a full tank so we don’t have to fill it until we get home.

What happens to people who either physically can’t or find it very difficult to pump their own gas?

Some people argue that if you don’t want to pump your own gas, you can have it pumped for you, but places I have seen take that route charge a lot more. So it’s not really a good option.

I worry that as we have more people move to Oregon, they may force us to change. There are some of those people who can’t seem to understand why we like it that we do not have to pump our own gas. If it comes to a vote again, I will vote again to not change.

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  1. says: Ray Bennett

    I think it would be about time, I'm from Oregon and got so tired of the person pumping my gas put more then I asked or less. They have spilled gas down the side of my vehicle. Other states that have self serve people with disabilities or elderly can have a clerk pump their gas for t hem. When . I moved to Washington at the age of 40 it was hard to get used to. Now I really hate waiting when j visit family in oregon.

  2. says: Tammy

    I live in Kansas, I grew up in Oregon, I hate that when I dress up to go to an interview or to work and I have to deal with a smelly gas pump, I am neither for or against, but I know of several places that offered both and tmTHAT is what I'd like to see, the option, I can pull in and let someone else pump, especially in the damn cold!!

  3. says: Cody

    Lived in oregon from when I was born till I was 27 , except for the past two years I have been living in ND, where u have to pump your own fuel, and im not going to lie I was nervous and scared to pump my own fuel at first, but thats what everyone is nervous about its that unknown, but in the end, seeing both sides of the life of pumping ur own fuel and having someone pump fuel, definitely go woth pump your own.. there is one set back that I am kinda getting annoyed by and that is mostvfuel stations are making people pay inside first before fueling, but its not the end of the world. So get rid of Oregon's laws, and let people pump there own fuel, I am a supporter of getting rid of the laws against pumping your own fuel.

  4. says: Alan

    Not to disagree, but there were several cities in Oregon that had self-service pumps during the sixties and seventies. Yes, maybe there might have been a law, but no one adhered to it until 1982. I don't know where you got your information from, but it is grossly inaccurate.

  5. says: Dan

    Late last year I was visiting the Pacific Northwest and prior to dropping my car off at PDX I filled up at the Costco down the road. The lines were long and moved slowly. As I sat there fuming (no pun intended) I discovered that although there was one attendant pumping gas at each island they couldn't keep up with the traffic. I briefly questioned the Costco attendant and he expressed that the hope from his peers at this store was that Oregon eliminate this outdated and archaic statue. He felt that he and his coworkers would be more productive working elsewhere inside Costco. He said it's all the guaranteed employment in the People's Republic of Oregon, only partially tongue in cheek. Get with it Oregon and move into this century.

  6. says: Dale Kaupp

    I moved to Oregon in 1977 and was pleased to have someone pump my gas, especially in the rain. The part I liked most was that it gave more people jobs that I saw taken from people in Calif. when it became self serve. It's really a bonus if you can find a station that knows something about customer service and trains their employees properly. When paying anywhere from $30-50 for a fill up, it would be nice if the employees would appreciate their job enough to clean your windshield instead of texting their friends.
    We need to start thinking different as a country, in that the bottom line is not always the most important thing.
    Think how many people in Oregon would not have a job otherwise. Think of it as an investment in your state or country. There have been and still are too many businesses in the U.S. that have sold out their fellow citizens by importing cheap products, which ends up closing factories and producing huge layoffs.
    We need to create new jobs and keep the ones we have intact.

  7. says: kathleen dusio

    I just moves to oregon from california, I love the no Self serve law. So many jobs kept this way. Please don't get rid of it I'm disabled it's a god send .

  8. says: Judy

    I am NOT in favor of pumping our own gas. First it would but a lot of people out of jobs and Oregon needs the jobs. Second a lot of older people can not pump their own gas and if like California, where they are supposed to pump it for the handicap and elderly, you wait in line and the attendants never come out so either leave the station to find another or try to pump gas yourself.