Defects in Acts and Regulations.—I.
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By a User of Heavy Vehicles.
The various Acts which regulate the use and-construction of commercial-motor vehicles are a. very crude attempt to deal with what was at their incaption a novel form of locomotion. That they have proved inadequate is not to be wondered at, owing to the rapid advance of road-motor transport In the succeeding years. The vehicles for which the Acts v.-ere passed were but feeble caricatures of the superb machines which but a few years later were to win for Britain the premier place amongst the nations of the world in the use and construction of commercial motors.
The Public Receptivity Exceeded.
Whilst the evolution of the vehicle was rapid beyond expectation, and the position it won in the commercial activities of the nation exceeded all the mostoptimistic forecasts, its very success became in some degree a source of embarrassment to the public. The commercial-motor vehicle had created a new condition of things for which no adequate provision had been made, and it soon became clear that fresh legislation was required to enable this new form of transport to develop in harmony with its surroundings. This was the position in 1914, prior to the outhreak of the present war.
Mr. Herbert Samuel's Error.
It is a regrettable fact that the Local Government hoard has decided not to allow matters to remain as they were at this stage, but has decided to push on with an amending Act, or Acts, at a time when the conditions governing the public life are in a more-abnormal state than has ever occurred before in the history of the nation. This is no time to legislate for the unknown future : we are in a life and death struggle to preserve our national existence; our minds are pre-occupied with the one great purpose—to preserve the integrity of our race. Exceptional conditions of life, undreamt of in the past, are being daily imposed upon all and each of us ; our environment is in the melting-pot, and what shape or form it will eventually assume at the conclusion of this world-wide war it is impossible to foretell. This we do know, the war will leave us in vastly different circumstances to those in which it found us.
It is in such a scene of change and confusion of circumstances that the Local Government Board selects to mould the laws by which it hopes to govern the future development of the commercial-motor vehicle. Under such circumstances, it is futile to discuss the chances of their success or failure, but it may be profitable to glance back over the conditions as they were before the war, and to enumerate the effects which the Acts then in force had upon the use and construction of the commercial-motor vehicle miming under the conditions prevailing during the yea-vs 1907 to 1914.
Some Existing Weak Points.
The Heavy Motor Car Order of 1901 and 1907 mainly governs the heavy motorcar, but it has the misfortune to rely upon parts of previous Acts for its interpretation. This has led to heavy motorcars Leing prosecuted wrongfully -under the Lccomotives Act, 1898, and unscrupulous advocates have tried to confuse the two types of machines in their pleadings, with the result that magistrates have frequently imagined they were dealing with traction engines in disguise, whereas they were in reality considering the case of an-altogether-different type of machine.'
Article III of the Heavy Motor Car Order refers to the unladen weight as not to exceed five tons, and together with a trailer the combined unladen weight
not to exeeed 61 tons. The weak point of this lies in the use of the word " unladen." What does it include, and what does it exclude-i There is a very big difference, for instance, between the unladen weight of a timber-carrying wagon, which may have no platform, and a wagon constructed for carrying furniture. The unladen weight of a contractor's tip wagon, or of a municipal authority's street-watering wagon; also requires special consideration. Time reasonable interpretation is that the unladen weight of a heavy motorcar is the weight of the engine and chassis, including the driver's seat, but excluding the platform or other provision for carrying the load, or fuel, etc. In the case of the trailer, omitting reference to the engine, the same definition would apply, it being optional for the owner to include the platform in this case, if he so desired. This would permit of " tipping trailers," or trailers with high sides, being registered.
The important factor from the road authorities' standpoint., in whose interests the weight of heavy motors was determined, is the gross weight [Also the axle-weight. -.En.] when loaded, and not the unladen weight.
The Vendor's Responsibility.
A further argument against the present definition of the unladen weight of a heavy motorcaris that the owner is the responsible party. Thus, a manufacturer may build a machine and take it to he registered—in fact, the manufacturer generally registers the machines, because he is more familiar with the technicalities involved. Theowner . eventually accepts the vehicle with its registration paper duly signed. There is nothing to prove that the manufacturer is delivering the vehicle to the purchaser in thc same form as that in which it was registered— in other words, that the unladen weight is identical. In practice, it frequently occurs that the manufacturer registers the machine with certain fitments, and hands it over to the customer in quite a different form. In this way, an unsuspecting purchaser often discovers too late that he has pukhased a " Locomotive" and not a" Heavy Motor Car." The suggested definition of unladen weight would overcome this difficulty—" ready for the road," and, of course, increased accordingly.
Blame for any Deficiency or Omission on Registration.
The Order does not make arty provision for change of ownership: The owner is responsible for the correct registering of the vehicle; a machine is manufactured by A who registers it, and sells: it to his agent B who in turn sells to his client C. The lastnamed thereby becomes responsible for an. act of A to which he was no party. It is clear that the owner at the time of registration should be held responsible
for the correct registration ln practice, this is almost universally the manufacturer, who is undoubtedly the party most conversant with the technicalities of the law, and is well aware whether his machine complies or otherwise.