Extraordinary Traffic —A 40 Years Problem.
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IT IS WHEN one cornea to listen to -the arguments and discussions, such as have followed the raising of the issue in the ease of the Weston-super-Mare U.D.C. against Henry Butt and Co., Ltd., that one realizes the limitations of the gentlemen to whom the. drafting and framing of our laws is entrusted. Section 23 of the Highways and Locomotives Act of 1878, itself an amending Act, provides that, a. highway authority may rwover from any person by whose order excessive weights or extfaordinary traffic passing over a road causes extraordinary expenaes in repair to the highway.
That expression "extraordinary traffic" has, in the past 40 years, caused much money to flow in an endeavour to secure its definition and its application to certain sets of circumstances. The latest of these endeavours raises an issue vital to the commercial motor vehicle industry because, in the ease of Henry Butt and Co.'s business, it caanot be shown that an excessive volume of traffic was put on the damaged roads, or that the traffic was carried in excessive loads, or that the vehicles carrying the loads were unsuitable or were driven at excessive speeds. The basis of the claim was simply that the 'company had replaced a laumber of horsed vehicles by steam wagons, carrying loads larger than could he carried by the horsed vehicles, but quite within their legal ca-pa-city, the 'number of vehicle journeys being proportionately reduced.
Thus, the issue was this : as the 'consequence of a changeover from horse drawn to mechanical transport of an entirely normal character, has the traffic become "extraordinary," involving claims for any 4esulting road damage ? The contention -of the defendants (and of the Commerical Motor Users Association, which, on behalf of all owners of motor transport vehicles, has fought the ease through the Chancery Court, the Court of Appeal, and the House of Lords), is that the change was one of normal and natural progress in transportation and that the bur.den of constantly repairing roads, that are now not suitable for the new traffic conditions which have 'be-come the normal traffic conditions, or of bringing those roads into a -condition of suitability, should not be borne by one user, or a few users. The burden would be intolerable. The roads are the permanent way of all free, independent, and individual transport, and that form of transport, in the change from horsedrawn to mechanical, has set up a new set of conditions and imposed extra duties on the surface crust and foundations, and, unless progress is to be hampered and checked, the permanent way must be brought into a, state which will enable it to conform to the most modern requirements.
The decision in the ease, when given, will, of course, not in any way affect the other kinds of " extraordinary traffic." The taking of excessive weights over roads unsuited for them, to the injury of the surface or foundation, Will still render the delinquent liable to the cost of undoing the evil he had wrought. What it will cleat up is the argument that the motor vehicle is to 'have no charter of -freedom of the highway, that its greater -capacity and efficiency must be cast away, and that progress and enterprise in road transport must for ever be stillborn. It will be readily admitted that the great cost involved in the modernizing of those roads which grow into traffic arteries cannot continue to be laid at the door of the urban and rural district 'councils, but with the Ministry of Transport the machinery now exists for equalizing the burden throughout the country, and there is a promise that a more generous contribution from the motor user to the country's exchequer will provide the solution of the present problem of rendering the roads suitable for the heavy traffic which may be expected rapidly to grow in volume.
The Bogey of the Chax-a-banes.
THE DAILY PRESS is making a " stunt " of the alleged problem of 'chars-a-banes using the narrow roads ofethe country and, warming to its work, brings the scene of the evil down to "narrow winding lanes." A highly sensational sketch has appeared of-a char-a-banes filling a road cut on the hillside in a valley, a flimsy wall the only safeguard against a fall dawn a precipitous declivity. The road is so narrow—apparently about 10 ft.—that the motorear shown travelling in the other direction is unable to pass.
It is all wild exaggeration and, to the man whc knows his Britain, rather finny, for a road engineerec over a watershed is, almost without an exception, of adequate width for two vehicles, because that is ti. very kind of road upon which it is impossible (to all intents and purposes) to reverse for a long distance or to .turia round. One -could imagine the modern-day Vanderdecken on the imaginary narrow road, essaying to cross the hills or mountains but never succeeding in getting a clear passage Owners of charsbebancs do not, as a, rule, run their vehicles over -routes full of such snags thatthe time schedule of the service can never be kept.
Certainly, there are many beauty spots in this country which are only approachable loy narrow roads —roads capable of accommodating two vehicles, but with little margin when the vehicles are so large as a 32-seater char-a-bancs. From what we have seen of the average driver of such vehicles, we have a great deal of admiration for his skill and judgment, reserving always the desirability of preventing the foolish passenger from plying the few weak elements in his ranks with drink. However, after paying due regard to the desire of the proprietor to frame a schedule and a route which shall be, in every respect, reasonable and practicable, and also to the -capability of the driver, there can be no harm in suggesting that both proprietor and driver should go out of their way to see that there can, be no causeof complaint of road obstruction on the part of the char-h.-banes. The business can be highly profitable, because the man on holiday bent can afford to pay a bigger mileage rate than the tradesman can afford for the carriage of his goods. At the same time, the char-h-bancs tripper has not the best of names, so that the responsibility of both proprietor and driver in avoiding the spoliation of the amenities of the roads and the countryside is greater than that imposed upon any other passenger transport service.
Road Obstruction by Large Vehicles.
WITH THE COMING of the summer and the butterflies, one hears again the complaint of the motorcar driver who fain would get by, that the driver of the heavy vehielet and of the bulky ehar-h-bancs persistently remain oblivious to the sound of the Klaxon, and, keeping to the middle of the road, act as obstructions. One man the other day averred (and he happens to be the owner of a fleet of commercial motors, so could hardly be suspected of prejudice), that he had to follow behind a noisy commercial vehicle for five miles before he could pass, all the luck being against him where the road would, otherwise, have been wide ,enough to have given him a chance. The fitting of the rear view mirror would go a good way towards overcoming the difficulty, but it would be useless to make it a compulsory fitting, for it could not be made equally compulsory that the driver should so adjust it that he always had a good view . rearwards, or that he should look into it at frequent intervals.
The difficulty can only be, overcome by training. Each fleet superviser should make it a point to take an occasional trip with each of his drivers, in order to note the man's methods: his weaknesses and failings, and also his strong points. No driver is so skilful that, in the course of a .day's run, he could successfully camouflage his style. To the discerning watcher . he would disclose his capacity and evenhis mentality in a short run embraring various kinds of roads and traffic. A few hints to a driver following upon such a test would, in. most cases, lead to an improvement which would, unfailingly, redound to the advantage of other road users, to the vehicle itself, and to the service in which it was engaged. .
A Simple Subsidy Scheme.
WE REFERRED a few weeks ago -to the question of the necessity for the new subsidy scheme for motor vehicles which is known to be engaging the attention of the War Department.. We believe that it is generally recognized that if, in 1914, the pre-war scheme had had time to develop so as to embrace large numbers of vehicles, our position in respect to transport at the outbreak of war would have been much strengthened. Moreover, the process of commandeering vehicles is never satisfactory inasmuch as the condition of the vehicles taken over has to be -very hurriedly gauged, little or nothing is known of their past history, and 016 disagreements as to the proper prices to be paid for them are for such reason inevitable. In many cases, the prices actually paid were excessive, and it is open to argument that the cost of a subsidy scheme may, in the event of war, be more than repaid by the facilities which it gives for regulating the prices at which vehicles are taken over for military service. We do not think that at the present juncture it would be at all desirable to formulate a scheme indicating the features of design in great detail. Manufacturers are not, at the present moment, in a position to disturb their output by introducing new models to conform with the War Department's specification. Many of the existing models are known to be very satisfactory, if not perfect, for military use. All that is necessary is, therefore, a scheme pro-• viding facilities for the 'War Department to keep in touch with the owners of standard vehicles of good makes, inspecting such vehicles periodically and reserving the right to purchase them on pre-arranged terms in the event of national emergency. The payment to be made to owners under a general scheme of this kind need not be very high. In all probability, with the present call for economy in all quarters, no scheme involving considerable payments in respect of large numbers of vehicles would receive Treasury sanction. The necessity for a scheme of some sort must, however, be obvious, and we are thus led to the conclusion that what is wanted, for the time being, should he in the nature of a stop-gap and should be so framed as to offer sufficient inducement without involving high payments. The two essentials can only be reconciled if the subsidy is extended to practically any sound vehicle of standard British make.
Legality of Tractors on Roads.
QUESTIONS ARE AGAIN arising as to the legality of certain agricultural tractors when used upon public roads for haulage purposes or even for merely conveying themselves and their implementa from field to field. It will be remembered that, during the war, the Home Office brought out a special order to permit such use of the roads by tractors, the tyres of which did -not comply strictly to legal requirements. It must be evident that strict adherence to the old law as regards the strakes on wheels would make these strakes practically useless as helps to secure adhesion on-unma-de tracks or on open land. This was recognized at the time, when the Government first realized that the farm tractor was essentialY as a means of stimulating the home production of food And, consequently, the order mentioned was introduced. This order has now presumably lapsed, and we are, therefore, passing through an interim period during which, pending the framing of a new law, the old pre-war rules again hold good. It is clear enough that, when the Ministry ofTransport gets down to the subject of regulations for the construction and use of motor vehicles, provision must be made for the legal employment‘on the roads of tractors under conditions somewhat more lax than those which are applied to machines intended primarily or solely for road work.
It Would, therefore, be merely vexatious and restrictive of progress for local police authorities to institute proceedings against the owners of tractors which, while welcomed as national assets during tho war, may have now become technically illegal vehicles on the road, though they will certainly be legal again directly there is time for the law to be revised. The simplest way to avoid any such difficulties would be to renew the enforcement of the war-time order pending the introduction of new -;4.regulations which cannot now be very long delayed.