AT THE HELM (EDITOR'S BLOG): LET ME PUMP MY OWN GAS

August 15, 2008 11:00 pm

I remember the first time I tried to pump my own gas in Oregon. It was in the late 1990s and I was visiting Brookings with my wife for the first time.

The gas attendant, who had likely spied my California license plate, was nice, but firm, "Sorry, sir. You can't pump you own gas in Oregon."

I didn't understand it then, and – nine years later – I still don't.

These days we can use self-checkout lines at the supermarket. We eschew the bank teller for the ATM machine. We can event vote by mail. Yet, we cannot be trusted to pump our own gas. Well, motorcyclists can – to a point. They can pump their gas but Oregon law prohibits them from removing the nozzle from the pump and replacing it. Go figure.

In researching this issue, I found that Oregon and the state of New Jersey are the only states that ban self-serve gas. Safety is a concern no matter who is pumping the gas. There were at least 170 fires believed to have been started by static electricity at gas stations nationwide from 1992-2006, according to the Petroleum Equipment Institute, a trade group.

But the Oregon Legislature's reasons for the ban on self-serve gas are rather weak. One reason given is "Oregon's weather is uniquely adverse."

How silly. Our inclement weather does little to dampen Oregonians' spirits. When was the last time you saw a longtime resident using an umbrella? Getting out of the car to pump gas may be inconvenient at times. That's no reason to ban it.

In fact, eliminating the ban sounds good to me, and it may reduce gas prices, although only by a few pennies. That still adds up over the years.

If the ban were eliminated, accommodations should be made for the elderly and disabled, as well as those who don't want to or can't cope with self-serve.

Another reason given for the ban on self-serve gas is that eliminating it may put some gas attendants out of work.

By that same reasoning, we should stop people from using the self-checkout at stores and ATMs.

In general, residents of other states manage to fill up their own tanks. So can Oregonians.

Speaking of gas ...

Motorcycles and motorized scooters are all the rage now, thanks to the high gas prices. I saw one for sale on the street the other day and I seriously thought about buying it, and mothballing the old SUV.

But then the smart part of my brain – the teeny, tiny bit tucked away in the far reaches of my brain – cautioned me against it.

"It sounds good now, in summer," my brain said. "But what about in winter, with the cold weather and horizontal rain?"

Good point.

"Besides," my brain added. "you only live 3 miles from work. How much money would you actually save?"

Doesn't really sound worth it, does it?

"A hybrid car. Now that's a possibility," my brain suggested.

Hmmmm. That would mean less fillups.

"Yes!" said the brain.

But that might put gas attendants out of work.

"Darn."