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NEW AUTOMOBILE LAW DIVIDES THE EXPERTS

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Automobile Club of America

NEW AUTOMOBILE LAW DIVIDES THE EXPERTS

The New York Times
May 17, 1903


Some Condemn It as Destructive, but Others Champion It.

Many Provisions for the Regulation of Speed Contained in the Measure—Imprisonment for Persistent Offenders.

While automobilists as a rule are opposed to the new Doughty-Bailey law, regulating the running of automobiles and motor vehicles, opinions expressed yesterday regarding the effect the law would have on automobiling in this State were at variance.

Expressions emanating from an element which from the outset has been most radically opposed to the enactment of the law would make the measure appear a formidable blow not only to the automobile sport in this State, but to the industry generally.  On the other hand, there are those who declare that the law will make but little difference.

Even those who gave tacit assent to the bill as a compromise measure, admit that it is vague and ambiguous in the wording, and in some respects objectionable.  They insist, however, that it has certain good features, and that the more obnoxious ones will either be inoperative, as not capable of enforcement, or that, if any attempt is made to enforce them they will be repealed at the next session of the Legislature.

The new law which supersedes the Cocks law of last year was passed by the Legislature on April 22, and received the sanction of Gov. Odell last Friday.  It became operative immediately.  Its main provisions, briefly summarized, are:

Automobiles, with bicycles, tricycles, and other motor vehicles are given the free use of any highway, public street, or place at any time when the same is open to the free use of persons using other pleasure carriages, except such speedways or roads as are set aside for the exclusive use of horses and light carriages.

County Supervisors are given authority to pass ordinances regulating the speed of automobiles and motor vehicles beyond city limits.  In New York City the regulation of speed of automobiles is placed under control of the Park Department in all public parks or such driveways as come within the proper jurisdiction of that department.

PROVISIONS TO REGULATE SPEED.

No city ordinance shall require an automobile or motor vehicle to travel at a slower rate of speed than eight miles per hour within closely built up portions, nor at a slower rate than fifteen miles an hour in sections where the houses are more than 100 feet apart.  No ordinance shall require an automobile or motor vehicle to travel at a slower rate of speed than twenty miles an hour within any town or village beyond the closely settled territory, except in cases specially defined by the law.  Several special provisions are made to cover these cases.

No automobile shall pass a person driving horses or other domestic animals, or foot passengers walking in the roadway at a speed greater than eight miles an hour.
No automobile shall cross an intersecting highway at a greater rate of speed than eight miles an hour.

Automobiles must not pass a public school between the hours of eight in the morning four in the afternoon on days when school is held, nor a place of public worship during the usual hours of service on the Sabbath day at a speed exceeding ten miles an hour.

In crossing a dam or causeway where the roadbed is less than twenty feet wide, an automobile must not exceed a speed of four miles an hour.

No automobile shall run within a distance of half a mile of any Post Office at a rate of speed exceeding eight miles an hour, if the authorities having control of the highway shall have indicated by a proper sign that such reduction of speed must be made.  "Upon such sign must appear clearly the words: "Slow down to eight miles," and also an arrow pointing in the direction where the speed is to be reduced.  Should the territory be so closely settled as to warrant, in the judgement of the proper authorities, that speed should be reduced beyond the half-mile limit, then a sign so indicating may be erected at a greater distance.

It is stipulated, however, that a Board of Supervisors may set aside for a given time a road for speed tests to be conducted under proper restrictions for the public safety.

Every person driving an automobile or motor vehicle shall, at request or signal made by the upraised hand of a person driving or riding a restive horse or driving domestic animals, cause the automobile to immediately stop, and remain stationary, and upon request, shall cause the engine of the automobile to cease running, so long as may be necessary to allow such animals to pass.  This provision applies to automobiles going either in the same or opposite direction.

CERTIFICATES AND PUNISHMENT.

Every owner of an automobile or motor vehicle must, within thirty days after the law goes into effect, file a statement with the Secretary of State containing his name and address and a brief description of the character of the vehicle, including its number and the name of the manufacturer, accompanied by a registration fee of $1.

In return he shall receive a properly numbered certificate stating that he has been properly registered in accordance with the law.  The number of this certificate must be placed on the automobile in a conspicuous place in Arabic numerals, black on white ground, and each not less than three inches in height and each stroke to be not less than half an inch in width.

Every person acquiring an automobile after the law has gone into effect must register it, in accordance with the law, within ten days after it has been acquired.

Every person desiring to operate an automobile as mechanic, employe, or for hire, must within thirty days after the law takes effect file a statement with the Secretary of State, giving his name and address and also a description of the machine he is capable of operating, with a registration fee of $1.  In return he shall receive an operator's certificate, which he must always carry with him when operating an automobile.

A person who shall operate an automobile without having obtained a certificate, or who shall refuse to exhibit it upon demand of the proper authority, will be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.

The first offense against any of the provisions of the law or any violations or ordinances adopted by the authorities of any municipality or the Commissioners or Trustees of any parkway or driveway relating to the running of automobiles shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding $50.  For the second offense the penalty is fixed at a fine of not less than $50 and not exceeding $100, or imprisonment of not more than thirty days, or both.  The third offense shall be "punishable by improsonment, or by improsonment not exceeding thirty days and a fine not less than $100, nor exceeding $250."

In addition to these penalties, any person violating the law shall be punished for the first offense by a suspension of his right to operate an automobile for a period of two weeks, for the second offense by suspension for one month, and for a third offense by a revocation of this right.  A person four times convicted shall be disqualified from receiving a license certificate.

CONFLICTING VIEWS EXPRESSED.

The new measure originated with the Long Island Highway Protective Association, which is composed of wealthy and influential men opposed to automobiles.  The original bill was drawn by Townsend L. Scudder, counsel and Secretary of the association, and was much more drastic in its provisions than the law as finally passed.

The Automobile Club of America was unqualifiedly opposed to the measure, but owing to a common belief that it would be passed, a committee was appointed last January which, after a number of conferences with officers of the Highway Association, secured certain concessions which made the bill less objectionable.  Then, while still disapproving the measure as a body, and while many of the individual members of the club were so radically opposed to it that a rupture within the organization was threatened over the proposed action, the club finally pledged its support to the bill.

Those who represent the element in the club that indorsed the bill see some advantages in it.  The new law makes it impossible to fix a speed limit of less than eight miles in cities, fifteen miles in the suburbs where houses are more than 100 feet apart, and twenty miles in the open country.  It is pointed out that this will give automobilists the advantage of running their vehicles at high speed in many localities in the immediate vicinity of the city where the limit is now eight miles an hour.

It is further said for the new law that the provision requiring the putting up of signs where speed is to be reduced is an advantage, as it will prevent the setting up of police traps.

"This law," said a member of the Automobile Club yesterday, "has been greatly misunderstood.  It is my belief that when it is put to a test many of its objectionable features will be rapidly eliminated.  Many of its provisions neither can nor will ever be enforced.  Others are ambiguously drawn, and we have no fear of the interpretation that will be put upon them by the courts.  Nor do we anticipate any harsh or unfair enforcement of this law by local authorities in such communities as come under its provisions.  A distinct advantage is the provision made for speed contests."

DENUNCIATION OF THE LAW.

The leader of the opposition against the Bailey law within the Automobile Club was Percy Owen.  He was seen yesterday at his office, 150 East Fifty-eighth Street.

"If this new law is going to be enforced," he said, "it will mean a hard blow to automobiling in this State, indeed.  We might as well sell our machines, and I know a number of wealthy automobilists who intend doing so.  If the law is not going to be enforced, it will not do so much harm, but it is hard to see any reason for having an inoperative law on the statute books, unless it be for blackmailing purposes.  That is what it will lead to.  Who would not rather pay a bribe to some rural constable man than go to jail and be branded as a criminal for a third offense under the new law?

"There was never any call for such legislation.  If the general public understood some of its provisions a general uprising would result.  There is, for instance, the provision requiring a chauffeur to register within thirty days after the new law goes into effect.  After that it will no longer be possible to obtain a certificate to operate a machine for hire.

"In the section defining the penalties you find that these are not only for violation of this law, but for violations of ordinances or regulations which may have been passed by the authorities of townships or municipalities regarding the running of automobiles, of which one may be perfectly ignorant.  Say, for instance, in some little town there has been a collision between a fire engine and an automobile.  The first thing the Town Council will pass is an ordinance declaring it a misdemeanor for an automobile to cross the street where the engine house is situated without first stopping.  How are you going to know this if you pass through there for the first time in your life?  And if you have been convicted for two offenses equally trifling before, you are sent to jail as a common criminal."

Townsend L. Scudder, who fathered the original bill, said yesterday:

"We shall endeavor to enforce the law intelligently and fairly, in a manner that will give the public protection and yet not interfere with the legitimate pleasure of automobilists.  We have no wish to do anything that shall deprive automobilists or chauffeurs of any right that is theirs.  We do not claim that the law is perfect—it has many defects due to its amendment in committee largely, but the necessity for such a law was clearly apparent."

Deputy Police Commissioner Piper said last night that no information, to his knowledge, had been received at Police Headquarters regarding the law, and that therefore no steps had been taken to enforce it.



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