Have you ever wondered why you can’t pump your own gasoline in New Jersey? I have, and did a little digging for the explanation.
Self-serve has been the rule nationwide for 70 years, ever since the first pump-your-own gas station opened in California in 1947. Prior to that, all gas stations were full-service. Not only did the “pump jockeys” fill your tank but they’d check your oil, water levels in your radiator and wash your windows… and maybe even give you a set of free steak knives for your 35-cent-a-gallon purchase. Remember those good ol’ days?
When the self-serve idea came to New Jersey, a local gas station owner named Irving Reingold in Hackensack started offering a discount for the do-it-yourselfers. Rather than charging the going rate of 21.9 cents a gallon, his self-service stations charged only 18.9 cents. His operation became wildly popular, prompting competitors to retaliate by shooting up his station and forcing Reingold to install bullet-proof glass. Competitors then persuaded the state legislature to ban the practice of self-serve and Reingold eventually went out of business.
In 1949 Trenton lawmakers passed the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, which read:
“Because of the fire hazards directly associated with dispensing fuel, it is in the public interest that gasoline station operators have the control needed over that activity to ensure compliance with appropriate safety procedures, including turning off vehicle engines and refraining from smoking while fuel is dispensed.”
That law is still on the books in New Jersey, one of two such state laws in the nation. The other is Oregon, which passed its law in 1951. Consumer pressure in that western state recently brought a slight relaxation of the rules. Now drivers in rural counties can pump their own gas, but only in the overnights.
The fine for violating the law is $500 in both states, though it’s seldom enforced. Try pumping your own gas in New Jersey, assuming you can activate the pump, and you’re more likely to get a scolding than a ticket. One study in 2015 showed that state had issued zero infractions in the previous two years for the “crime”.
The town of Huntington on Long Island has a similar ban on self-serve, despite appeals from gas station owners to stay competitive.
Garden State residents have been trying for years to rescind their self-serve ban. But Governor Christie has refused, saying his residents actually like full-service gas stations.
In 2015, State Assemblyman Dean O’Scanlon introduced a bill to allow self-serve saying he was “offended by people that argue that New Jerseyians are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire”.
Cynics say that New Jersey’s self-service ban is to protect thousands of pump-jockey jobs and higher profit margins for station owners.
Here in Connecticut, lawmakers seem to trust Nutmeggers with pumping their own fuel. The new technology at pumps helps prevent accidents and cases of motorist self-immolation are exceedingly rare.
However ,one quirk in Connecticut gas-dispensing laws that is still being debated is the controversial “zone pricing” where what you pay at the pump depends on where you buy, not good ol’ American competition. But that’s a whole other story for another time.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media