286 U.S. 374 (1932), 826, Sproles v. Binford

Docket Nº:No. 826
Citation:286 U.S. 374, 52 S.Ct. 581, 76 L.Ed. 1167
Party Name:Sproles v. Binford
Case Date:May 23, 1932
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 374

286 U.S. 374 (1932)

52 S.Ct. 581, 76 L.Ed. 1167




No. 826

United States Supreme Court

May 23, 1932

Argued April 27, 28, 1932




1. A provision of the Motor Vehicle Act of Texas limiting net loads on trucks using the highways to 7,000 pounds was attacked upon the ground that damage to the highways from overweight can be prevented only by fixing a maximum gross load and providing for its proper distribution through axles and wheels to the highway surface, and that the limitation in question is unduly and arbitrarily restrictive of cargo.


(1) The limitation was within the broad discretion of the state legislature, and does not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 388.

(2) In such matters, the courts are not to apply scientific precision as a criterion of constitutional powers. Id.

2. When the subject lies within the police power of the state, debatable questions as to reasonableness are not for the courts, but for the legislature, which is entitled to form its own judgment, and its action within its range of discretion cannot be set aside because compliance is burdensome. P. 388.

3. In the absence of national legislation governing the subject, nondiscriminating regulations of the states limiting size and weight of vehicles on their highways may apply (if otherwise valid) to vehicles engaged in interstate commerce, and one state cannot establish standards which would derogate from the equal power of other states to make regulations of their own. P. 389.

4. Contracts relating to the use of highways are made subject to the power of the state to regulate the weight of vehicles on its highways, and are not protected from such regulation by the contract clause of the Federal Constitution. P. 390.

5. The Texas statute, supra, exempts "implements of husbandry" from the net load weight limitation. Held that, construed as confined to farm implements and machinery, the movements of which are relatively temporary and infrequent as compared with the ordinary uses of the highways by motor trucks, the exception is consistent with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 391.

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6. The same statute limits the length of motor vehicles to 35 feet, and of combinations of vehicles to 45 feet. Held consistent with the equal protection clause, as a state has the right to discourage the use of such trains or combinations on the highways. P. 392.

7. Section 5(b) of the Texas statute, supra, provides that the general limitations as to length of vehicles and weight of load shall not apply, and substitutes more liberal maxima, in the case of vehicles used to transport property from point of origin "to the nearest practicable common carrier receiving or loading point or from a common carrier unloading point by way of the shortest practicable route to destination," etc. Held that it is not void for uncertainty, but refers to points at which common carriers customarily receive shipments, of the sort that may be involved, for transportation, or points at which common carriers customarily unload such shipments, and the meaning of "shortest practicable route" is sufficiently clear. P. 393.

8. The requirement of reasonable certainty in statutes affecting individuals does not preclude the use of ordinary terms to express ideas which find adequate interpretation in common usage and understanding. Id.

9. A classification allowing greater length and load to motor vehicles making short hauls to and from common carriers than to motor trucks generally is consistent with the equal protection clause. P. 394.

10. The state has the right in such general motor vehicle regulations to foster fair distribution of traffic as between the highways and the railroads, to the end that all necessary facilities shall be maintained and that the public shall not be inconvenienced by inordinate uses of its highways for purposes of gain. Id.

11. Also, the state may constitutionally favor transportation of persons on the highways over transportation of property by applying a load limit to trucks that is not applied to buses. P. 395.

12. The provision of the Texas Motor Vehicle Act authorizing the Highway Department to grant special permits, for limited periods, "for the transportation over state highways of such overweight or oversize or overlength commodities as cannot be reasonably dismantled" and also for super-heavy and oversize equipment for the transportation of such commodities is not a delegation of legislative power, in violation of § 28, Art. I, of the Texas Constitution. P. 397.

56 F.2d 189, affirmed.

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Appeal by the plaintiffs and interveners from a decree of the district court of three judges dismissing a bill to restrain the enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Act of Texas.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District Court, composed of three judges, entered a final decree dismissing the bill of complaint which sought to restrain the enforcement of the Motor Vehicle

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Act of Texas, House Bill No. 336, Chapter 282, 42d Texas Legislature. 56 F.2d 189. The decree was entered on pleadings and proofs, and the complainants and interveners appeal. The act was assailed upon the ground that certain of its provisions violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and also the commerce and contract clauses (Art. I, § 8, cl. 3, § 10, par. 1) of the Federal Constitution. The statute is an amendatory act, and the provisions in question are found in §§ 2, 3, 5, and 7.

Section 21 prohibits the operation on any highway of any "vehicle," as defined, exceeding stated limitations of size, or any vehicle not constructed or equipped as required, and also the transportation of any load exceeding the dimensions and weights prescribed. The state highway department may grant permits, for ninety days, for the transportation "of such overweight or oversize or overlength commodities as cannot be reasonably dismantled," or for the operation "of super-heavy and oversize equipment" for the transportation of such commodities, provided that hauls under these permits shall be made "by the shortest practicable route."

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Section 32 limits the width of a vehicle including load, to 96 inches, the height to 12 1/2 feet, the length to 35 feet, and the length of a combination of vehicles, coupled together, to 45 feet. It forbids the transportation as a load, or as part of a load, of any commodity in containers having more than 30 cubic feet and weighing more than 500 pounds, where there are more than 14 of such containers carried as a load on "any such vehicle or combination,"

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no load of any such containers to be carried in excess of 7,000 pounds. There are exempted from the limitation as to size

implements of husbandry, including machinery used solely for the purpose of drilling water wells, and highway building and maintenance machinery temporarily propelled or moved upon the public highways.

Section 53 prohibits any "commercial motor vehicle" (which the Act defines as one designed or used for the transportation of property), truck-tractor, or trailer from operating outside of an incorporated city or town with a load exceeding 7,000 pounds "on any such vehicle or train or combination of vehicles," and provides further that no motor vehicle (which includes passenger buses) shall operate outside a city or town with a greater weight than 600 pounds "per inch width of tire upon any wheel concentrated upon the surface of the highway."

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Section 74 inserts a paragraph to be known as § 5(b) of the amended statute, providing that the foregoing limitations as to length of vehicle or combination of vehicles and weight of loads, and height of vehicle with load, shall not apply to vehicles

when used only to transport property from point of origin to the nearest practicable common carrier receiving or loading point or from a common carrier unloading point by way of the shortest practicable route to destination, provided said vehicle does not pass a delivery or receiving point of a common carrier equipped to transport said load,

or when used to transport property "from the point of origin to point of destination" when the latter is less distant from the point of origin "than the nearest practicable common carrier receiving or loading point equipped to transport such load." This provision is subject to the limitation that, except by special permit, as provided in the Act, the length of such vehicles shall not exceed 55 feet, or the weight of such loads 14,000 pounds, and also that the requirement as to the "weight per inch width of tire" shall still be applicable.

The District Court made comprehensive findings. These set forth the various interests of the complainant and interveners (common carriers and contract carriers, in intrastate and interstate commerce, and manufacturers and distributors of commodities), their large investments, the extent of their operations in highway transportation, the character and uses of their equipment, and the losses

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to which they would be subjected by requirements of the statute. Other findings may be summarized as follows:

Of all the registered vehicles on the highways, including trucks, buses and automobiles, less than four-tenths of one percent have a rated carrying capacity of more than 7,000 pounds; not more than 5,500 trucks, out of a total of 206,000, have such a capacity and are affected by the prescribed load limit. There are approximately 200,000 miles of state and county highways in Texas, and less than 20,000 miles of these are state designated highways, the improvement of which represents a public investment of more than $250,000,000. The annual maintenance...

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