New Jersey May Finally Let You Pump Your Own Gas

A New Jersey legislator is proposing finally getting rid of an antiquated law that makes it illegal to pump your own gas in the Garden State.

Gas Pump

A legislator in New Jersey is proposing that the Garden State should finally enter the civilized world and allow people to pump their own gas:

Drivers in New Jersey could soon pump their own gas under a bill being introduced in the Assembly.

Under current law residents are not permitted to pump their own gas. New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states that require attendants to pump gas.

Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said Saturday the bill would authorize drivers to fuel cars themselves. The bill calls for a three-year period where merchants can offer self-service gas but must also provide full service. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate. O’Scanlon says his bill would be introduced in June.

O’Scanlon calls the current law unnecessary and says it can lead to inconvenient waits at the pump. Supporters of the current law say it promotes safety, but O’Scanlon questions whether 48 other states are less safe for letting motorists pump gas.

“New Jersey is the greatest state in the country,” O’Scanlon said. “We have plenty of things to be proud of. I’m not going to lament this outdated government regulation.”

At this point, there are only two states left in the nation where self-service is banned at gas stations, New Jersey and Oregon. In New Jersey’s case, the law originated from the case of a gas station owner in the 1940s who decided that the best way he could compete with other stations in the area would be to allow motorists to fill their gas tanks on their own rather than paying someone to do it for them. Given that this was in an era before electronic payments and other security measures that are common today, it was perhaps a tremendous demonstration of trust in people. In any case, it was apparently enough of a successful business practice that other station owners the Garden State started adopting the practice. While the idea spread to other states, in New Jersey the political power of the major gasoline distributors was powerful enough to result in a law barring anyone other than a service station employee from filling a gasoline tank.

By the time I was young enough to pay attention to such things, it became apparent fairly quickly that this was an exceedingly stupid law. It was kind of hard to understand, after all, why it was okay for my Mom or Dad to fill a gas tank in Pennsylvania, but it was somehow forbidden in New Jersey. When I moved to Virginia in the early 90’s, the idea that I could get out of my car, fill the tank, and move on without waiting for some guy to come along and do it for me seemed kind of liberating, and filling up for a return trip from New Jersey to Virginia made me want to get out of my car and do it myself.

There’s been a lot of negative reaction to this idea online from some New Jersey residents. Frankly, I’ve got to say that those people disappoint me. Come one people, how hard came it be to get out of your card and put gas in the tank? You can do it.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. I used to be a cashier at a gas station/restaurant/gift shop and we used to get people every once and awhile from New Jersey who (claimed they) didn’t know how to use a self-service gas pump.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    If it’s OK to pump your own gas, what’s next? Man on dog sex? Oh…wait…

  3. Trumwill says:

    The libertarian in me thinks this is a stupid regulation because people can pump their own darn gas.

    The conservative in me is actually a bit more sentimental about the loss of a local/regional custom.

    The libertarian points out that it’s not a custom, it’s a law that runs contrary to presumed market preferences.

    The conservative says markets aren’t everything.

    The liberal in me pops his head in the window and says “THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING!”

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Thre have been a couple of ballot measures here in Oregon to allow self serve. The last time was over 20 years ago and in spite of the millions spent by oil companies and the serrvice station owners it failed so badly that no attempt has been made since then. The people in Oregon simply don’t want to get out of their cars on a cold, wet windy day and pump their own gas.

  5. J-Dub says:

    I’d also like to get rid of the law in Massachusetts that makes you hold the handle down manually. The stations are forced to remove the little clip that allows you to keep the gas flowing while you wash your windshield or clean the trash out of your car, etc. It really sucks in the winter if you don’t happen to have any gloves with you.

    Oh, and enforce the no smoking law at gas stations. I was gassing up at my local station in MD when the attendant, THE F****ING ATTENDANT, was walking around the pumps with a cigarette in his mouth, ironically collecting all the fire extinguishers as they were about to close. Then he flicked his butt in my direction while I was still pumping gas, probably because I gave him a dirty look. Suffice it to say I have never been back to that station. I should probably let the owner know why.

  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    I wonder if it will take 70 years for laws to be overturned that prohibit auto companies like Tesla to sell their cars directly.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    While the idea spread to other states, in New Jersey the political power of the major gasoline distributors was powerful enough to result in a law barring anyone other than a service station employee from filling a gasoline tank.

    So maybe we can all just stop pretending there is any such thing as a free-market?

  8. Gavrilo says:

    The reason New Jersey can still mandate full-serve gas stations is that it maintains the second lowest gas tax in the U.S. If New Jersey goes self-serve, pretty soon the politicians in Trenton are going to be raising the gas tax. Personally, I’d rather see my money go into some high school kid’s pocket rather than into the state’s coffers.

  9. Dmichael says:

    @Ron Beasley: Sorry, Ron, but as a resident of Oregon for nearly forty years, I question whether most Oregonians still oppose self-service. We all have rain gear. It is time to repeal this dumb law.

  10. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Just saying – when self-serve stations started up, the complaint was that we would have to pump gas ourselves rather than have someone else do it for us.

    Change is hard.

  11. Trumwill says:

    @Gavrilo: What’s the relationship between the two? I mean, what’s to stop NJ from raising the gas tax now? Or from declining to raise taxes after going self-serve?

  12. Scott says:

    @Mr. Prosser: Yes, free market loving Texas auto distributors are fighting direct sales tooth and nail.

    The fight last legislative session involved fighting the large beer distributorship to get local craft beers into supermarkets without the middle man.

  13. Gavrilo says:

    @Trumwill:

    I mean, what’s to stop NJ from raising the gas tax now?

    People would get angry and vote against the politicians who increased the price at the pump.

    Or from declining to raise taxes after going self-serve?

    Hahahahahaha. That’s a good one!

  14. Davebo says:

    it boggles my mind really.

    If you are going to force me to pay the premium for full service then I want full service. One guy checking my oil and tire pressure while another vacuums my car!!

    Like the good old days :0)

  15. Gustopher says:

    Pointless job killing bill.

    Whether that is a pointless bill that kills jobs, or a bill that kills pointless jobs, I don’t know. But jobs will be killed.

  16. Franklin says:

    @Trumwill: I like your inner dialogue.

    Anyway, (and being too lazy to look it up,) I think Hawaii had this law when I went there some 15 years ago. To be honest, I was just as baffled as the NJ folks who go outside the state, but in reverse. Like, uh, do I tip? Why is this taking so long? Are you going to clean my windows, too?

  17. Mikey says:

    @C. Clavin: I’m pretty sure nobody believes there’s a free market. There are people who to varying degrees believe there SHOULD be, but do you really know anyone who’s harboring any such illusion about the market we actually have?

    Really, laws like this are a primary example of what libertarians consider illegitimate government interference in the free market. And even as a non-libertarian, I think they have a pretty strong point.

  18. edmondo says:

    If this is the biggest problem that Declan O’Scanlon can find in New Jersey, he ain’t looking hard enough.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @Mikey:
    It’s stupid. law.
    Every Republican believes in the free market. Or at least they say they do.

  20. Just Wondering says:

    As usual, Doug completely misses the point.

    Guess who Declan O’Scanlon’s campaign contributors were in his last race? If you guessed any of the following, you’d be right on target:
    The New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Ass, Conoco-Phillips, 7-11 Corporation and Car PAC. That’s not counting the numerous other political contributions that came through the state Republican Party.

    Instead of making snide remarks about NJ motorists, Doug, maybe some journalism 101 courses might be more appropriate.

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @Gavrilo:

    I’d rather see my money go into some high school kid’s pocket rather than into the state’s coffers.

    If only.
    But the kid is getting paid minimum wage…and the extra profits are going to the station owner. And let me guess…you aren’t in favor of raising the minimum wage.
    (NJ minimum wage is at least pegged to CPI increases so that’s better than many states)

  22. MarkedMan says:

    I worked in Jersey for 10 years and bought gas there mostly because it was cheaper than NYS. But I have to admit I would have rather pumped my own so I wouldn’t have to wait while the lone guy worked his way around 4 or 6 cars.

    “Everyone knows” this is all about special interest groups. But a question no one ever answered for me in Jersey was “What special interest group and why?” I just have trouble seeing how this advantages any industry? Sure, it benefits the tens of thousands of gas pump jockeys, but they have exactly zero clout in Trenton….

  23. Trumwill says:

    @Gavrilo: I’m having difficulty with your logic. If people will turn them out for raising the gas taxes in the status quo, why will they be powerful post-SQ?

    There is no particularly relationship that I can really see. There are two states that require pumpers, one (NJ) has low gas taxes, and the other (OR) has high ones. So what’s the relationship?