Lawmakers revive long fight to let New Jersey drivers pump their own gas

By: - March 1, 2022 6:01 pm

Strong economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies against Russia could reverberate and prompt energy price spikes, Biden warned. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In a state oft-maligned for its traffic, taxes, and more, the list of uniquely Jersey perks is short but persuasive. Wherever you go, you’re within 100 miles of the ocean. You might run into Bruce Springsteen at any time. And you never have to pump your own gas.

But several lawmakers are looking to upend that last luxury. They introduced a bill Monday, dubbed the Motorist Fueling Choice and Convenience Act, to allow customers to fuel up their own cars.

New Jersey motorists have been banned from doing so since 1949. That’s when legislators fearing fuel’s fire hazards passed the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, which requires gas station attendants to fill tanks.

Efforts to overturn the ban are almost as old as the law itself, with gas station owners unsuccessfully challenging it to the state Supreme Court in 1951 and state legislators fighting fruitlessly to bring self-service gas stations to New Jersey since at least 1981.

What makes current legislators confident this time’s the charm?

“There are savings to be had here, substantial savings — the industry is saying 15 cents a gallon,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), a longtime champion of self-serve fueling. “We have a fuel cost crisis right now, some would say, so why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to give people the option to reduce what they pay for gasoline?”

States with pump-your-own gas don’t necessarily have lower gas prices, according to AAA. The group puts the average price of gas in New Jersey at $3.66 per gallon, lower than Pennsylvania’s $3.76. The average is $3.60 in Maryland, $3.61 in Delaware, and $3.81 in New York.

The latest legislation would allow gas stations to offer full-service, self-service, or some combination and provide self-serve customers with a discount. And it would prevent counties or municipalities from requiring or prohibiting self-service options.

Its prime sponsors in the Assembly are Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), Ned Thomson (R-Monmouth), and Annette Chaparro (D-Hudson). O’Scanlon plans to introduce an identical version of the bill in the Senate.

Critics of self-serve fueling say it eliminates jobs and challenges drivers who are elderly, disabled, or have other mobility issues that might make self-service difficult. Some critics still dwell on the safety concerns that led lawmakers 73 years ago to ban self-service.

O’Scanlon noted the current legislation requires gas station owners to provide full-service if they have more than four pumps.

“There’s a hyper-overreaction that they think we’re going to take their full-serve away, which isn’t the case. It never was,” he said.

Of self-service’s impact on jobs, he added: “We have a labor shortage, if people didn’t notice. These gasoline stations can’t find people to work.”

Under the new legislation, stations would be required to create a “calling device” to ensure customers with disabilities or infirmities can still call an attendant to fuel their car (at self-serve prices).

And of safety concerns, O’Scanlon said: “The only reasonable way to justify a safety argument is to suggest the people in New Jersey are more flammable than people in other states, that the greasy funnel cakes, cheese fries, and boardwalk pizza we eat permeates our bodies and we are more likely to burst into flames. I’m pretty sure that’s not true.”

He added: “New Jersey has a history of spineless pandering to unfounded boogeymen.”

New Jersey is a national outlier on this issue, he pointed out. Oregon is the only other state that has clung to a ban on self-service fueling, but Oregon lawmakers now are considering legislation to repeal it after lifting some restrictions in 2015 to allow residents in rural parts of the state to pump their own gas, and again temporarily last summer during a heat wave.

“This is a logical and beneficial reform that has passed in 49 other states,” O’Scanlon said. “Are the roads in 49 other states littered with cars filled with the skeletons of people who couldn’t figure out how to get gas in their cars themselves? No.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.