Not Even COVID-19 Can Shake New Jersey's Fear of Letting Drivers Pump Their Own Gas

But Oregon grudgingly relents. For now.


Some regulations have been relaxed or waived during the COVID-19 outbreak while others are being enforced with a renewed enthusiasm. Few things illustrate this dichotomy better than the polar opposite ways in which Oregon and New Jersey are handling self-service gas pumps.

Oregon has decided to loosen its restrictions on pumping your own gas. By contrast, New Jersey—the only other state to prohibit motorists from handling gas nozzles—is doubling down on its ban.

On Saturday, Oregon Fire Marshall Jim Walker announced that for the next two weeks the state would suspend some of its self-service gas regulations to cope with staff shortages and assist in social distancing measures.

"During this unprecedented time of state emergency, we need to ensure that critical supply lines for fuels and other basic services remain uninterrupted," said Walker in a press release.

In 2015 and 2017, the Oregon legislature passed modest bills allowing gas stations in rural counties to offer self-service. But a 2019 bill that would have allowed gas stations statewide to designate up to 25 percent of their pumps as self-service went down to defeat.

The state's new rules are hardly laissez faire. Gas stations are required to come up with a social distancing policy and to have an attendant on hand to ensure that any motorists who do pump their own gas comply with it.

Oregon gas stations may only offer unsupervised self-service—the norm in 48 states—if they operate for less than 10 consecutive hours per day and post signs explaining proper fuel pump handling. They must also document that there are no employees available to watch over drivers gassing up and prove that they've gone through a State Fire Marshall audit.

The Oregonian reports that lobbyists for the Oregon Fuel Association asked for the changes to deal with mounting staff shortages at the state's gas stations.

The conditions Oregon has placed on this already marginal deregulation might seem silly. But they are preferable to the approach taken in New Jersey.

The Garden State has steadfastly refused to reform a decades-old state law that allows only state-certified gas station employees to operate fuel pumps. Not even a global pandemic, it seems, will force the state to change course.

"We have no plans to turn our gas stations into self-serve at this time," said Gov. Phil Murphy (D). "Please DO NOT pump your own gas."

The state's official Twitter account also addressed the controversy, making an ostensibly hilarious reference to the fact that repeat violators of the self-service ban can be fined up to $500.

Meanwhile, fears that gas station pumps are a major source of COVID-19 transmission have themselves gone viral on social media. USA Today and Snopes have investigated this claim, finding it to be half-true. Both publications conclude that yes, you can pick up COVID-19 from surfaces, but no, gas station pumps are not more likely to spread the virus than other public, plastic surfaces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains "it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."

That would suggest that full-service gas stations, which require drivers to interact with gas station staff, are more likely to spread COVID-19 than self-service outlets.

To be sure, the risk that motorists might pick up the virus from handling pumps isn't zero, but it could be mitigated by drivers wearing gloves or gas station staff sanitizing handles.

Which makes Oregon's limited move to self-service a smart public health decision, as well as a marginal win for liberty. By maintaining its full-service mandate, New Jersey has characteristically chosen to be a less healthy and less free place.

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  1. This is why I never stop in New Jersey. Always gas up before entering NJ, and drive right the fuck through.

    1. Driving through America’s armpit is bad enough.

      1. It’s not too bad south of Newark. Just avoid Philadelphia and Atlantic City. There’s a reason it’s called the Garden State.

        1. p.s. Yes I know Philly is not in New Jersey. Just avoid its vicinity on the NJ side.

          1. the 080xx zip codes were a lovely place to grow up in the 70s/80s

      2. I thought that was Gary, Indiana.

        I was born there, long ago but left as an infant. Went *by* it a couple times in the 1990’s on my way elsewhere across the country but the smell kept me from being too curious about what its like.

    2. Just pump your own gas here. If they stop you, just say you didn’t know. If they tell you to leave, go to another station. In NJ, you won’t have to drive more than 100 feet.

      1. The ban on self service is WHY you won’t have to drive more than 100 feet — it prevents stations with 20 pumps, common elsewhere.
        It’s the same as the Massachusetts law that largely prevents beer and wine being sold in grocery stores.

      2. Or let them pump your gas. It’s kind of nice from time to time for those of us who don’t usually get full service.
        Of course, I’m not likely to be in NJ anyway.

        1. full service used to include having your oil level checked and windshield washed too.

          1. Yup and for some reason you were always a quart low.

        2. I mean, you’re paying for it anyway, may as well.

  2. can’t tell if you want the pump-guy to lose *his* job too?

  3. I live in Oregon. Before the “lockdown,” I filled-up about once a month. I filled up just before the request to quarantine-in-place. I probably won’t need gas for at least another six weeks. And the last time I filled up, it cost me $2.26 per gallon (which is a revelation here on the left coast).

    1. Under $2 lots of places around where I am now.

      1. No doubt.

      2. Gas is $3.19 in SoCal this morning.

        I still don’t understand why people live here on purpose.

        1. could surf and snow ski on same day.

          1. for about 15 mins for each activity based on SoCal traffic

  4. I saw emoji gas can man and assumed it was sarcasm from some pro-self service group before I looked at the account. Just remember, some government person was paid to make that tweet. And yes, they think you the citizens deserve to be treated like children.

  5. By maintaining its full-service mandate, New Jersey has characteristically chosen to be a less healthy and less free place New Jersey.


  6. Oregon has decided to loosen its restrictions on pumping your own gas.

    Don’t they understand how virus-infested those pump handles will become now?! Why does Oregon hate people? WHY?!

  7. Seems a dumb hill to die on- who cares? Non-zero chance of spreading with full service, non-zero chance of spreading if everyone used the pumps themselves.

    Who knew you lost so much “freedom” when you couldn’t fill your tank yourself.

  8. I can see in my mind streams of fire jetting out of gas pump nozzles all over the state, high into the air, causing havoc, mayhem and mortal injury, if people in NJ pump their own gas.
    My only other thought is that has happened nowhere else. I wonder why NJ people are so different? I spent 4 months in Cape May NJ in 1974, courtesy of the USCG. It seemed a nice normal place, at least on the coast.

    1. Were you coasties allowed to fuel your boats yourself?

      If yes, was that because you were federal and exempt? If so, and you were in uniform or could be bothered to show your federal ID, could you pump your own car gas? Would FBI agents or other federal police be allowed to pump their own gas?

      1. It was the 70’s, craziness hadn’t taken over yet.

  9. I don’t understand how they can keep Portland weird if they keep allowing people to choose not to conform to hipster Portland standards!

  10. I’m curious how far this non-self-service goes.

    Does it apply to diesel as well?

    Can you fill gas cans yourself? Probably not. If you fill a couple of 5 gallon for home use, whether lawn mower or tractor, can you fill it from the gas cans, or do you have to hire some on-call pump jockey?

    Do companies with their own fuel tanks, like construction companies or police departments, have to hire some flunky as the designated pump jockey, or can employees fill their own cars?

    Does it apply to boats? Airplanes?

    Can you plug in your electric vehicle yourself? Probably, and why do they allow that?

  11. On trips to OR in my car, I always get out and insert my credit card into the pump because that’s what I do at every fill up here in CA. Usually the “attendant” comes flying over right away, warning me to not pump my own gas. So, I say, “sorry”, hand him (never been a her) the nozzle and get back in the car.

    But, when I’m on my motorcycle, invariably they come out, insert my credit card for me, and then hand ME the nozzle because they have no idea where to fill it. (My Suzuki AN650 has a covered fuel fill on the left side with a locking gas cap. Just like most cars.)

    It always seemed so stupid to me. Obviously just a “labor” friendly law to keep station attendants employed, despite the pol’s claims of public safety.

    It’s actually a serious negative such, that it deterred me from moving there back when I really, really wanted to go live on the OR coast. But, I’m sure most of the pump jockeys didn’t care because, they so seem to love hating on Californians….even though most of them probably are interstate migrants themselves.

    At the Portland airport one time, while picking up a rental car to go to an interview I had, the clerk asked me what business I was on in his state. When I told him I had an interview, he said nonchalantly, “We love having you visit but, we don’t want you moving here.” To which I retorted loudly, “The last time I looked I was in the United States and I can damn well move to any state I want.”

    That was twenty or thirty years ago. If I encountered it today, I’d demand to see the manager and thrash his ass with threats of filing a civil rights lawsuit. At least until my car rental was comped.

    A lifetime has taught me, when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

  12. Murphy and Minions have their knickers all twisted up in their britches because their attempt to end all firearms transactions drew a federal level lawsuit, and the wording of that suit did not bode well for the New Jersey dweebs, so Pore ‘Bewzed Murph had to cave and allow the gun stores to open again. He could not flex enough muscle to keep the gun stores closed, so he’s doubling down on his control mania by taking it out on the owners/operators of the OTHER weapon of mass killing, the standard motor car. ”
    Nannies gotta nannie, what can we say else?

  13. Why would anyone live in a sheethole like NJ?

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  15. as usual most people on here comment on nj even though they never have been here. in my part of nj is mostly farms and open spaces. anyway, i am all for less government but there is nothing nicer than pulling up to a gas station when it is 20 degrees outside, cracking the window and saying fill it and staying in the warm car. there is a reason this subject comes up every spring and not in the winter. also people i work with from pa always fill up in nj because gas is so much cheaper.

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