359 U.S. 520 (1959), 94, Bibb v. Navajo Freight Lines, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 94
Citation:359 U.S. 520, 79 S.Ct. 962, 3 L.Ed.2d 1003
Party Name:Bibb v. Navajo Freight Lines, Inc.
Case Date:May 25, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 520

359 U.S. 520 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 962, 3 L.Ed.2d 1003



Navajo Freight Lines, Inc.

No. 94

United States Supreme Court

May 25, 1959

Argued March 30-31, 1959




As applied to interstate motor carriers operating under certificates of public convenience and necessity issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Illinois statute here involved which requires trucks and trailers operating on that State's highways to be equipped with a specified type of rear fender mudguard which would be illegal in Arkansas, which is different from those permitted in at least 45 other States, and which would seriously interfere with the "interline" operations of motor carriers, is invalid because it unduly and unreasonably burdens interstate commerce in violation of Art. I, § 8 of the Constitution. Pp. 521-530.

(a) Even state safety regulations must yield when they run afoul of the policy of free trade reflected in the Commerce Clause. Pp. 523-524, 528-529.

(b) Interchanging mudguards on trucks and trailers at the border of Illinois is a time-consuming task, and the necessity to use welding might mean that some trucks or trailers would have to be unloaded and loaded again -- all of which adds up to a serious burden on interstate commerce not justified by a compelling need for this new safety measure. Pp. 527-528.

(c) The record in this case shows that this is one of those exceptional cases where a state safety regulation in the exercise of the police power places such a heavy burden on interstate commerce, uncompensated by compelling advantages of safety, that it violates the Commerce Clause. Pp. 529-530.

159 F.Supp. 385, affirmed.

Page 521

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked in this case to hold that an Illinois statute1 requiring the use of a certain type of rear [79 S.Ct. 964] fender

Page 522

mudguard on trucks and trailers operated on the highways of that State conflicts with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The statutory specification for this type of mudguard provides that the guard shall contour the rear wheel, with the inside surface being relatively parallel to the top 90 degrees of the rear 180 degrees of the whole surface.2 The surface of the guard must extend downward to within 10 inches from the ground when the truck is loaded to its maximum legal capacity. The guards must be wide enough to cover the width of the protected tire, must be installed not more than 6 inches from the tire surface when the vehicle is loaded

Page 523

to maximum capacity, and must have a lip or flange on its outer edge of not less than 2 inches.3

Appellees, interstate motor carriers holding certificates from the Interstate Commerce Commission, challenged the constitutionality of the Illinois Act. A specially constituted three-judge District Court concluded that it unduly and unreasonably burdened and obstructed interstate commerce because it made the conventional or straight mudflap, which is legal in at least 45 States, illegal in Illinois, and because the statute, taken together with a Rule of the Arkansas Commerce Commission4 requiring straight mudflaps, rendered the use of the same motor vehicle equipment in both States impossible. The statute was declared to be violative of the Commerce Clause, and appellants were enjoined from enforcing it. 159 F.Supp. 385. An appeal was taken, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 358 U.S. 808.

The power of the State to regulate the use of its highways is broad and pervasive. We have recognized the peculiarly local nature of this subject of safety, and have upheld state statutes applicable alike to interstate and intrastate commerce, despite the fact that they may have an impact on interstate commerce. South Carolina Highway Dept. v. Barnwell Bros., 303 U.S. 177; Maurer v. Hamilton, 309 U.S. 598; Sproles v. Binford, 286 U.S. 374. The regulation of highways

is akin to quarantine

Page 524

measures, game laws, and like local regulations of rivers, harbors, [79 S.Ct. 965] piers, and docks, with respect to which the state has exceptional scope for the exercise of its regulatory power, and which, Congress not acting, have been sustained even though they materially interfere with interstate commerce.

Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona, 325 U.S. 761, 783.

These safety measures carry a strong presumption of validity when challenged in court. If there are alternative ways of solving a problem, we do not sit to determine which of them is best suited to achieve a valid state objective. Policy decisions are for the state legislature, absent federal entry into the field.5 Unless we can conclude on the whole record that

the total effect of the law as a safety measure in reducing accidents and casualties is so slight or problematical as not to outweigh the national interest in keeping interstate commerce free from interferences which seriously impede it

(Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona, supra, pp. 775-776) we must uphold the statute.

The District Court found that,

since it is impossible for a carrier operating in interstate commerce to determine which of its equipment will be used in a particular area, or on a particular day, or days, carriers operating into or through Illinois . . . will be required to equip all their trailers in accordance with the requirements of the Illinois Splash Guard statute.

With two possible exceptions,

Page 525

the mudflaps required in those States which have mudguard regulations would not meet the standards required by the Illinois statute. The cost of installing the contour mudguards is $30 or more per vehicle. The District Court found that the initial cost of installing those mudguards on all the trucks owned by the appellees ranged from $4,500 to $45,840. There was also evidence in the record to indicate that the cost of maintenance and replacement of these guards is substantial.

Illinois introduced evidence seeking to establish that contour mudguards had a decided safety factor in that they prevented the throwing of debris into the faces of drivers of passing cars and into the windshields of a following vehicle. But the District Court, in its opinion, stated that it was

conclusively shown that the contour mud flap possesses no advantages over the conventional or straight mud flap previously required in Illinois and presently required in most of the states

(159 F.Supp. at 388), and that "there is rather convincing testimony that use of the contour flap creates hazards previously unknown to those using the highways." Id. at 390. These hazards were found to be occasioned by the fact that this new type of mudguard tended to cause an accumulation of heat in the brake drum, thus decreasing the effectiveness of brakes, and by the fact that they were susceptible of being hit and bumped when the trucks were backed up, and of falling off on the highway.

These findings on cost and on safety are not the end of our problem. Local regulation of the weight of trucks using the highways upheld in Sproles v. Binford, supra, also involved increased financial burdens for interstate carriers. State control of the width and weight of motor trucks and trailers sustained in South Carolina Highway Dept. v. Barnwell Bros., supra, involved nice questions of judgment concerning the need [79 S.Ct. 966] of those regulations so far as the issue of safety was concerned. That case also presented

Page 526

the problem whether interstate motor carriers, who were required to replace all equipment or keep out of the State, suffered an unconstitutional restraint on interstate commerce. The matter of safety was said to be one essentially for the legislative judgment, and the burden of redesigning or replacing equipment was said to be a proper price to exact from interstate and intrastate motor carriers alike. And the same conclusion was reached in Maurer v. Hamilton, supra, where a state law prohibited any motor carrier from carrying any other vehicle above the cab of the carrier vehicle or over the head of the operator of that vehicle. Cost taken into consideration with other factors might be relevant in some cases to the issue of burden on commerce. But it has assumed no such proportions here. If we had here only a question whether the cost of adjusting an interstate operation to these new local safety regulations prescribed by Illinois unduly burdened interstate commerce, we would have to sustain the law under the authority of the Sproles, Barnwell, and...

To continue reading