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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New Oregon law says motorists can pump their gas – sometimes

A carbon tax proposal in front of the Washington Legislature includes an additional 15-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline. (Don Ryan / AP)
By Gillian Flaccus Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. – An Oregon law passed nearly seven decades ago banned drivers from pumping their own gas but now that’s changing – in some cases. The new year ushered in some modifications to an aging law that makes Oregon only one of two states in the U.S. that places restrictions on self-service gas.

Self-serving motorists in other parts of the U.S. have poked fun at the idea of Oregonians struggling with gas pumps for the first time, but the reality is for many people in the state, not much has changed. Here’s a look at what the original law did, what’s changing and how Oregonians are reacting to this (kind of) brave new world.

What did the original law say and why was it passed?

The original ban on self-service gasoline was passed in 1951 in Oregon. The state law made it illegal for gas station customers to pump their own gas and mandated $500 fines for stations that violated the law by letting customers pump gas. The law includes justification language explaining that pumping gas can expose customers, including pregnant women and children, to unsafe fumes. It also said customer pumping can be dangerous for novices, can cause spills and can cause discomfort to the elderly.

What other states restrict self-service gas?

New Jersey is the only other state that places restrictions on self-service gasoline. The state’s law passed in 1949 and bans all customers from pumping gas at any time.

Has Oregon’s law been modified before?

In 2015, the law was amended to allow stations in rural areas to offer self-service gas between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. This allowed gas stations in sparsely populated areas to remain open 24-hours without providing overnight attendants.

What changed in 2018?

Those modifications were taken a step further starting Jan. 1. Now, gas stations in counties that have populations of less than 40,000 can offer self-service gas to customers any time. If the station also has a non-automotive retail operation – a snack store, for example – it must keep a gas station attendant on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How many people does this affect?

The changes apply to the 15 least populated of Oregon’s 36 counties. So attendants are still required at gas stations in Oregon’s larger population centers of Portland, Eugene, Salem, Bend and Medford, for example. Three other counties along the Oregon coast now can offer self-service fueling between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

How will the changes affect Oregon drivers?

Drivers in the western part of the state will notice no changes. In the eastern, rural counties where the changes apply, many businesses plan to keep things status quo to remain competitive or because their small stations aren’t equipped to handle self-service customers.

A few stations say they will offer self-service, but didn’t expect many drivers to choose the option.

Has anyone been fined?

Collecting fines for violating the pumping law are “extremely rare,” said Richard Hoover, spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal responsible for enforcement of the law. Authorities periodically receive reports of violations, visit gas stations and remind owners about the law, he said.

How do Oregonians feel about it?

Oregonians can get quite worked up about the question of whether to pump or not to pump. Some love sitting inside warm cars while Oregon’s infamous rain pours down. Others say the law drives up the price of gas and holds back the economy.

The issue always brings up a question from flummoxed newcomers: Should I tip?

The answer from most Oregonians usually is no – unless the attendant has really gone above and beyond – because it’s a mandated service.