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Many Gas Station Attendants Not Helping Disabled Drivers

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Drivers with physical disabilities are supposed to be able to press a call button or honk their horn to get assistance from gas station attendants. (Credit: CBS)

Drivers with physical disabilities are supposed to be able to press a call button or honk their horn to get assistance from gas station attendants. (Credit: CBS)

Dave Savini Dave Savini
Award-winning Chicago journalist Dave Savini serves as investigative...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – It is usually gas prices that give drivers a headache at the pumps, but for many drivers the real problem is gas station operators breaking a law that is seldom talked about.

There are tens of thousands of drivers with disabilities in Illinois and, by law, gas stations that have more than two attendants on duty must pump gas for them.

But CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini found drivers in need of help were repeatedly ignored.

“The way the system is set up right now just doesn’t work,” said Maureen Linehan-Howard, who has a real hard time getting her minivan filled with gasoline.

She has multiple sclerosis but has equipped her vehicle to allow her to still drive herself around.

Getting fueled up is challenging and she, like many other drivers with disabilities, is forced to follow instructions like honking her horn three times or pressing intercom help buttons.

She says the honking is almost always ignored and she often can’t pull close enough to reach the buttons.

“You want to be more independent and be able to purchase the gas just like everyone else does and if someone could just come out and put the pump – you know, work the pump – that would be great,” said Linehan-Howard who, is also a trustee for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

While Linehan-Howard honked her horn and pressed call buttons, CBS 2 was inside the stations watching as clerks didn’t respond to her.

She pressed one call button six times and clerks did not go out to assist her until CBS 2 told them a driver with a disability was trying to get gas.

Workers from two gas stations apologized for their failure to respond and said they would do better next time.

“We try to do our best and sometimes we have to do better. This is probably one of those cases,” said David Sykuta, Executive Director of the Illinois Petroleum Council.

Sykuta represents gas station operators and says he has been working to come up with a solution to this problem.

“We’re willing to work with anybody to come up with a better system we understand what we have now is not perfect,” he said.

In 2007, the 2 Investigators first exposed the problem as we documented three other drivers who were ignored at half the gas stations they visited.

In all cases, clerks apologized, but Linehan-Howard says that’s little consolation to her.

“I appreciate them saying that now let’s try and do something to prevent it,” she said.

Since many clerks fail to respond to intercom help buttons or the honking of horns, one idea Sykuta is looking at is to post a 1-800 phone number on the pumps with an authorization code. Phone calls by customers with disabilities would then be directed to a phone inside the store to alert the attendants.

The Illinois Chapter of the National MS Society has information on their website, http://www.msillinois.org. You can use it to file a complaint if this ever happens to you or someone you know. They are going to try and keep track of complaints.

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