Two things should come as no surprise to readers of this blog: first, that the state of Oregon prohibits self-serve gasoline pumps, and second, that I — like lots of people who move here from almost any other state — don’t like it.

Why not? In my case, for admittedly selfish reasons. It annoys me. I don’t like waiting 15 minutes during rush hour for an open pump and then waiting another 15 minutes while the lone attendant completes my and a dozen other costumers’ transactions — especially since I know the whole process would take all of three minutes if I could do it myself.

Now, I thought I knew the reasons behind the state law that prohibits gas vendors from allowing the general public to fill their own tanks (which, by the way, is subject to a fine of up to $500 if broken). But it wasn’t until I actually read the text of the statute that I learned some of the surprising, bizarre and even possibly offensive rationale behind this surprising, bizarre and definitely irritating ban.

What I had been told by state residents is that the law was mainly approved and upheld because it creates jobs. That tends to be a pretty powerful argument these days, and I’m not in any way prepared to offer data that either support or cast doubt on the assertion that the prohibition has a positive effect on employment figures.

And, for the record, increasing employment opportunities (particularly for “young people”) is listed as one of the 17 reasons the 1951 Oregon Legislature saw fit to enact this law (it’s No. 14). Some of the other reasons — I picked only the weirdest — are listed below.

– People need special training to pump gas or they will set themselves on fire (Oregon Revised Statutes 480.315(1)).

Yes, it’s true: Gasoline is a flammable liquid. In fact, it was probably just out of sheer, dumb luck all of Oregon didn’t burn up in some raging pre-1951 inferno before the Legislature in its infinite wisdom chose to intervene. Realizing the imminent danger of having simple laypeople occasionally handling a combustible liquid that has been in use for hundreds of years, lawmakers saw fit to lay the groundwork of their self-service gasoline ban with this declaration: “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.”

Henceforth, of course, Oregon gas stations implemented landmark training programs for their attendants that are said to rival those of the U.S. Marines in their scope and intensity, and which include such earth-shattering lessons as, “Don’t smoke around the pumps.”

– Disabled people are especially likely to set themselves on fire. Also, old people are stupid (ORS 480.315(5)).

“The dangers described in subsection (3) of this section 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.”

OK, so I may have been taking a little too much interpretive license with the “old people are stupid” comment. But still, how many seniors or people with a disability do you know who would agree with this “finding of fact,” which essentially says they can’t be trusted to pump their own gas without putting themselves in danger?

Regardless of the soundness of mind or body, if a person is capable of driving a car, that same individual is also capable of pumping his or her own gas. End of story.

– There’s just no other way to get gas into the cars of helpless disabled people and stupid old people (ORS 480.315(6)).

This next statement takes the previous one to an entirely new low: “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.”

That’s right. Not only did the Oregon legislature find seniors and those with disabilities are incapable of operating a gas pump unsupervised, but in addition, other states have tried to help these people, and all of those measures proved doomed to fail.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, our courageous lawmakers decided. Hence, the ban.

– Gas fumes are toxic, so let’s make fewer people smell A LOT of them (ORS 480.315(7-9)).

OK, so here is where the law transitions from merely causing mild offense to making me worry if perhaps the legislators were suffering from some mental disabilities of their own. Maybe that’s how they so keenly understood the challenges others with such conditions faced.

Quite simply, these three subsections argue that gasoline and other flammable liquids exude toxic fumes (7), which can be particularly harmful to pregnant women (8). I don’t have a problem with either of those statements. The one that makes me scratch my head is subsection 9, which says the toxic fumes should therefore, “in general, be limited to as few individuals as possible.”

So, in other words, since these fumes could be harmful, let’s make a small handful of people (some of whom could be pregnant, by the way) smell them constantly for 40 hours of week. And let’s allow gas stations to pay them as little as possible for their trouble.

– Making everyone pay more for gas is a great idea (ORS 480.315(10)).

Continuing with the same logic, lawmakers found that, in other states, those who are unable to pump their own gas because of the already-established, insurmountable disabilities of having crutches or being over age 55, have to pay extra for full-service pumps.

It almost goes without saying that this is unfair, our Legislature determined. You see, why should a small group of people who require additional attention pay extra, when the vast majority of people who don’t need additional attention could be paying extra too?

Read the statute for yourself if you think I’m mischaracterizing it.

– Oregon’s weather increases crime (ORS 480.315 (4)).

And, finally, the icing on this strange, little cake: “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.”

Slick surfaces I get, but crime? I can’t say an influx of rain has ever given me the urge to go knock over a bank, but then again, I’m not a legislator.

And there you have it, my cherry-picked analysis of one of my least favorites of Oregon’s laws. I’d be most curious to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me at tyler[at]tylerjfrancke[dot]com.

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