Beginning this past July 1, all gas stations in the state of Florida must post a phone number on their pumps that motorists who require assistance can call to alert an attendant of their presence. And Ben Ritter is the force behind that new law.
Ritter, a Marine veteran and T6-8 paraplegic, discovered the difficulty of pumping gas in the Sunshine State when he moved to Florida from New Jersey, where it’s illegal for drivers to pump their own fuel. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandated pumping assistance if at least two employees are working at a station but Ritter quickly realized there remained another problem. “The ADA doesn’t state how a driver with a disability is supposed to be able to connect with an attendant,” he says.So he gathered phone numbers of area stations and called them on his cell phone when he needed assistance, which worked so well that he explored whether it would be possible to have all gas stations in his county post their phone numbers.
Toward this goal, in 2010, Ritter met with veteran organizations, disability groups and businesses in Hillsborough County to discuss the development of an ordinance. One of the attendees, Mike Aldred, sales manager for the JH Williams Oil Company, soon placed decals with phone numbers on a few pumps at one of his CITGO stations. After receiving increased business from drivers with disabilities, he placed decals on all of his pumps.
In 2011, placing phone number decals on each gas pump became law in Hillsborough County and was eventually passed in six other counties. Next, a bill was introduced into the 2013 Florida legislature — but was quickly defeated because it called for penalties against gas stations who didn’t comply. Oil companies were particularly concerned about the possibility of drive by lawsuits. The bill passed in 2014 and went into effect on July 1. “This is the first law of its type in the nation and I hope it sets a standard for the rest of the states to follow,” says Ritter.