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A Surprising Decision

26th February 1954
Page 45
Page 45, 26th February 1954 — A Surprising Decision
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

High Court Ruling on the Sale of Unroadworthy Vehicles Reverses a Popular Interpretation of the Law By R. E. G. Brown,

M.Inst.T., F.C.I.S.

ARECENT decision of the Court of Appeal is of great interest to motor dealers and operators either buying or disposing of old vehicles in not exactly first-class condition. Section 8 of the Road Traffic Act,

1934, states:—

" Prohibition of sale of vehicles in, or alteration thereof to, a condition not complying with Regulations as to

construction, etc. .

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Section it shall not be lawful to sell, or to supply, or to offer to sell or supply, a motor vehicle or trailer for delivery in such a condition that the use thereof on a road in that condition would be unlawful by virtue of the provisions of Section 3 of the principal Act. " (2) Subject to the provisions of this Section it shall not be lawful to alter a motor vehicle or trailer so as to render its condition such that the use thereof on a road in that condition would be unlawful by virtue of the provisions of the said Section 3.

" (3) If a motor vehicle or trailer is sold, supplied, offered or altered, in contravention of the provisions of this Section, any person who so sells, supplies, offers, or -alters it, or causes or pqmits it to be so sold, supplied, offered, or altered, shall be guilty of an offence.

"(4) A person shall not be convicted for an offence under this Section in respect of the sale, supply, offer, or alteration of a motor vehicle or trailer if he proves that it was sold, supplied, offered. or altered, as the case may be, for export from Great Britain, or that he had reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle or trailer would not be used on a road in Great Britain, or would not be so used until it had been put into a condition in which it might lawfully be so used."

Things Not What They Seemed

Many people with a knowledge of road transport law would have expressed the opinion that the broad effect of this section was to make it an offence to sell a vehicle which was not in a roadworthy condition. However, according to the Court's decision in Vinall v. Howard this is not so, In the lower court, Mr. Justice Streatfeild had held that the sale of a car by the plaintiff to the defendant was illegal because the brakes were unreliable, the speedometer out of action and the silencer inefficient. The seller appealed.

Section 8 was quoted as providing that it shall not be lawful to sell a motor vehicle "in such a condition that the use thereof on a road in that condition would be unlawful" by Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. Lord Justice Somervell said that Section 3 required a vehicle to comply with regulations regarding construction, weight and equipment, but Section 30 (1) gave the Minister of Transport power to make regulations not only as to construction and equipment but generally to the use of the vehicle on the roads. The question in this case, he opined, was whether the defects came under the heading of construction and equipment, and therefore within Section 3, or regulations as to use.

In his view, the defects had nothing to do with the original construction and equipment of the car but pointed to neglect of proper maintenance—a matter not covered by Section 3.

The appeal was allowed, Lord Justice Birkett remarking that it would be " startling " that if one sold a car with a defective speedometer the sale would be illegal. What does Section 3 of the 1930 Act say?

" Subject as hereinafter provided, it shall not be lawful

to use on any road a motor vehicle or trailer which does not comply with the regulations applicable to the class or description of vehicles to which the vehicle belongs.

as to the construction, weight and equipment thereof."

As Lord Justice Somervell pointed out, the regulations referred to are made under the general powers given the Minister by Section 30 (1). The Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations are divided as follows: Part I, preliminary, regulations 1-4L part II, regulations governing construction, weight and equipment of vehicles and trailers, regulations 5-58; part Ill. regulations governing the use of motor vehicles and trailers, regulations 59-102; part IV, testing and inspection of brakes, silencers and steering gear, regulation 103.

The defects complained of concerned the speedometer. brakes and silencer, all of which are covered by part 11 as to their construction, and part III as to their use. it was the Court's decision that the obligation of a seller is to see that the vehicle complies with Section 3 only so far as constructional, but not use, regulations are concerned. It is of interest to see what these constructional regulations are:—

Regulation No. 12—Speed Indicator

(1) To every motor vehicle registered on . or after October 1, 1937, and to every public service vehicle which is for the time being used as an express carriage there shall be fitted an instrument so constructed and in such a position as at all times readily to indicate to the driver of the vehicle within a margin of accuracy of plus or minus 10 per cent., if and when he is driving at a speed in excess of that specified in paragraph (2) of this Regulation,

Regulation No. 20—Silencers

Every vehicle propelled by an internal-combustion engine shall be fitted with a silencer, expansion chamber or other contrivance suitable and sufficient for reducing as far as may be reasonable the noise caused by the escape of the exhaust gases from the engine.

Regulation No. 39—Brakes

Every heavy motorcar registered on or before August 15, 1928, shall be equipped with an efficient braking system or efficient braking systems with tl,vo means of operation sufficient under the most adverse conditions to bring the vehicle to rest within a reasonable distance. Reading these, one might be forgiven for believing

that the terms are such that the question of the equipment being efficient is implied, quite apart from any further " use" regulations to ensure that they are maintained so. To quote one of them, "the speed indicator must be so constructed and in such a position as at all times to indicate to the driver." Obviously if it is not working it cannot do this, but their Lordships take the view that that is a failure in use and not in construction.

As long as the vehicle was originally constructed to comply with the construction regulations, the conditions of the 1934 Act as to sale are apparently satisfied. However lamentably the vehicle falls short of roadworthiness, it is no offence to sell it. It remains, of course, an offence under the use regulations to use it.


Organisations: Court of Appeal
People: Birkett, Act

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