Why can't you pump your own gas in Oregon? Inside the Beaver State's greatest mystery
EUGENE, Ore. - As a little girl, Pearl Jones hung on every word of any story she heard from her elders in Baker City, especially women like Loy Wisdom who had come across the Oregon Trail as children.
I was barely more than a child when I met Pearl, who at her advanced age enjoyed a special reverence as a keeper of Baker County and Oregon pioneer histories.
Perhaps more than anything, she impressed this on me:
Oregon is America's Valentine.
The Beaver State joined the Union as the 33rd state on Feb. 14, 1859.
The coincidence is a welcome one for people who love Oregon - and lends extra poignancy to those ubiquitous heart in Oregon stickers.
To celebrate, it never hurts to put your Oregon IQ to the test - and tackle those difficult questions that seem to confound so many Americans, like "Why can't you pump your own gas in Oregon?"
Test Your Oregon IQ
What makes Oregon's state flag unique?
What is the state motto?
And perhaps most importantly:
Is it really true that Clint Eastwood filmed a musical here?
Here's a hint:
But what about the gas?
That was just click bait ... not.
Among the myriad things that make Oregon unique, the state's concern about how you fuel your automobile is one of them.
There's been some erosion in recent years: It is now legal for some gas stations in the state's 15 counties with populations less than 40,000 to allow self-serve at the pump.
But state law spells out the reasoning behind the general prohibition against self-serve fueling in Volume 12 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, entitled "Drugs and Alcohol, Fire Protection, Natural Resources".
The policy statement is contained in Chapter 480, titled "Explosives; Flammable Materials; Pressure Vessels". (Text of measure excerpted below; full text at bottom of post)
"The Legislative Assembly declares that (...) it is in the public interest to maintain a prohibition on the self-service dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids at retail," the law reads.
The policy statement spells out 17 reasons for the prohibition of pumping your own gas, including:
FIRE HAZARD: "The dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by dispensers properly trained in appropriate safety procedures reduces fire hazards directly associated with the dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids."
LACK OF INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL: "Appropriate safety standards often are unenforceable at retail self-service stations in other states because cashiers are often unable to maintain a clear view of and give undivided attention to the dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by customers."
LAWYERS, GUNS & MONEY: "Higher liability insurance rates charged to retail self-service stations reflect the dangers posed to customers when they leave their vehicles to dispense Class 1 flammable liquids, such as the increased risk of crime and the increased risk of personal injury resulting from slipping on slick surfaces."
RAIN & SNOW & HIGHWAYMEN: "The dangers of crime and slick surfaces described in subsection (3) of this section are enhanced because Oregon’s weather is uniquely adverse, causing wet pavement and reduced visibility."
SERVICE TO SENIORS & DISABLED: "The dangers described (...) are heightened when the customer is a senior citizen or has a disability, especially if the customer uses a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, walker, cane or crutches (...) Self-service dispensing at retail presents a health hazard and unreasonable discomfort to persons with disabilities, elderly persons, small children and those susceptible to respiratory diseases (...) the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-336, requires that equal access be provided to persons with disabilities at retail gasoline stations."
WHAT SENIOR DISCOUNT? "Attempts by other states to require the providing of aid to senior citizens and persons with disabilities in the self-service dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids at retail have failed, and therefore, senior citizens and persons with disabilities must pay the higher costs of full service."
AIRBORNE TOXIC PREVENT: "Exposure to toxic fumes represents a health hazard to customers dispensing Class 1 flammable liquids; the hazard (...) is heightened when the customer is pregnant; the exposure to Class 1 flammable liquids through dispensing should, in general, be limited to as few individuals as possible, such as gasoline station owners and their employees or other trained and certified dispensers."
ECONOMIC JUSTICE: "The typical practice of charging significantly higher prices for full-service fuel dispensing in states where self-service is permitted at retail (...) discriminates against customers with lower incomes, who are under greater economic pressure to subject themselves to the inconvenience and hazards of self-service; (and) discriminates against customers who are elderly or have disabilities who are unable to serve themselves and so must pay the significantly higher prices."
SAFETY FIRST: The higher price of full-service gas "increases self-service dispensing and thereby decreases maintenance checks by attendants, which results in neglect of maintenance, endangering both the customer and other motorists and resulting in unnecessary and costly repairs."
CALL AAA! "The increased use of self-service at retail in other states has contributed to diminishing the availability of automotive repair facilities at gasoline stations."
IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID: "Self-service dispensing at retail in other states does not provide a sustained reduction in fuel prices charged to customers (...) a general prohibition of self-service dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by the general public promotes public welfare by providing increased safety and convenience without causing economic harm to the public in general."
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: "Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people."
THINK OF THE CHILDREN! "Small children left unattended when customers leave to make payment at retail self-service stations creates a dangerous situation."
So if self-serve gas is a deal-breaker for you, consider the words of our revered former Gov. Tom McCall.
“We want you to visit our State of Excitement often. Come again and again," McCall famously said. "But for heaven's sake, don't move here to live. Or if you do have to move in to live, don't tell any of your neighbors where you are going.”