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May 17, 2015

Why is pumping your own gas illegal in New Jersey in the first place?

New bill would decriminalize practice, giving consumers choice

New Jersey State Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon announced Friday that he will be introducing a bill that would allow state residents to pump their own gas. The law would not only require Jersey stations to have at least one self-service pump, but would also decriminalize the act of fueling your vehicle on your own.

O'Scanlon, a Republican representing the state's 13th district, said in a press release that the law prohibiting pumping your own gas is "antiquated." New Jersey is one of only two states, Oregon being the other, that still doesn't allow the practice. 

“I am offended by people that argue that New Jerseyans are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire," O'Scanlon said in the statement.

He did, however, note that language would be inserted to require safety signs at pumps for drivers.

“Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, set yourself on fire!!” I think that should resolve these concerns”

Those concerns are in fact the reason that pumping gas for drivers is illegal in the first place.

New Jersey's Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations, a law that was enacted in 1949, states that the reasoning for gas station workers being responsible is essentially to protect the public from blowing themselves up:

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.

Yet while the fear of this happening is the face of the law's reasoning, Star Ledger columnist Paul Munshine explained in a 2014 piece that the full story isn't so simple. An entrepreneur's cheap prices at a self service station back before the law was enacted caused a gasoline special interest group that had political sway to make the practice illegal. 

The law has been challenged on several occasions, as noted in a timeline of the act put together by Interestingly enough, that same timeline cites polling that shows most New Jersey residents don't want to pump their own gas, and few support overturning the law. 

If enacted, the law would pose an interesting question for New Jersey residents: You can pump your own gas, but do you know how?