The existence of difference of opinion as to which is the best
form of necessary safety device does not preclude the exercise of
legislative discretion, and so far as the question is simply one of
expediency, the legislature is competent to decide it.
The criticism that a police statute requires a carrier to comply
with conditions beyond its control and therefore deprives it of its
property without due process of law is not open in this Court if
the state court has construed the statute as not so requiring the
The state court having held that the term "railroad company" as
Page 234 U. S. 281
in a state police statute is inclusive of natural persons
operating a railroad and that the statute is not unconstitutional
as denying equal protection of the law to railroad corporations
because it does not include natural persons, this Court concurs in
A state police statute requiring railroad companies to use a
specified safety device is not unconstitutional as denying equal
protection of the laws because it does not affect receivers
operating railroads; in view of the temporary and special character
of a receiver's management, the classification is reasonable and
In the absence of legislation by Congress, the states may
exercise their powers to secure safety in the physical operation of
railroad trains within their territory, even though such trains are
used in interstate commerce.
In regulating interstate trains as to matters in regard to which
Congress has not acted, a state may not make arbitrary requirements
as to safety devices; but its requirements are not invalid as
interfering with interstate commerce because another state, in the
exercise of the same power, has imposed, or may impose, a different
Congress may, whenever it pleases, make the rule and establish
the standard to be observed on interstate highways.
None of the safety appliance statutes enacted by Congress
relates to or regulates locomotive headlights.
The intent of Congress to supersede the exercise of the police
power of the states in respect to a subject on which it has not
acted cannot be inferred merely from the fact that such subject has
been investigated under its authority.
The statute of Georgia of 1908, Civil Code, §§ 2697, 269S,
requiring railroad companies to use locomotive headlights of
specified form and power, is not unconstitutional either as a
denial of equal protection of the law, as deprivation of property
without due process of law, or as an interference with interstate
135 Ga. 545 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the Locomotive
Headlight Law of Georgia, are stated in the opinion.
Page 234 U. S. 286
MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company, the plaintiff in
error, was convicted of violating a statute of the State of Georgia
known as the "headlight law." Pub.Laws (Ga.) 1908, pp. 50, 51;
Civil Code, §§ 2697, 2698. In defense, it was insisted that the act
contravened the commerce clause and the Fourteenth Amendment of the
Constitution of the United States. On appeal from the judgment of
conviction, the court of appeals of the State of Georgia certified
the questions thus raised, together with others involving the
application of the state constitution, to the supreme court of the
state. Answering these questions, that court sustained the validity
of the statute (135 Ga. 545), whereupon final judgment was entered
and this writ of error was sued out.
The material portions of the statute are as follows:
Page 234 U. S. 287
"Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Georgia,
and it is hereby enacted by authority of the same, that all
railroad companies are hereby required to equip and maintain each
and every locomotive used by such company to run on its main line
after dark with a good and sufficient headlight, which shall
consume not less than three hundred watts at the arc, and with a
reflector not less than twenty-three inches in diameter, and to
keep the same in good condition. The word main line as used herein
means all portions of the railway line not used solely as yards,
spurs, and side tracks."
"Section 2. Be it further enacted that any railroad company
violating this act in any respect shall be liable to indictment as
for a misdemeanor in any county in which the locomotive not so
equipped and maintained may run, and on conviction shall be
punished by fine as prescribed in § 1039 of the Code of 1895. . .
"Section 4. Provided this act shall not apply to tram roads,
mill roads, and roads engaged principally in lumber or logging
transportation in connection with mills."
The contention is made that this act deprives the company of its
liberty of contract, and of its property without due process of
law. It compels the disuse of a material part of the company's
present equipment, and the substitution of a new appliance. The use
of locomotive headlights, however, is directly related to safety in
operation. It cannot be denied that the protective power of
government, subject to which the carrier conducts its business and
manages its property, extends as well to the regulation of this
part of the carrier's equipment as to apparatus for heating cars or
to automatic couplers. The legislature may require an adequate
headlight, and whether the carrier's practice is properly conducive
to safety, or a new method affording greater protection should be
substituted, is a matter for the legislative judgment. But it is
insisted that the legislature has gone beyond the
Page 234 U. S. 288
limits of its authority in making the specific requirements
contained in the act as to the character and power of the light and
the dimensions of the reflector. This argument ignores the
established principle that, if its action is not arbitrary -- is
reasonably related to a proper purpose -- the legislature may
select the means which it deems to be appropriate to the end to be
achieved. It is not bound to content itself with general directions
when it considers that more detailed measures are necessary to
attain a legitimate object. Particularization has had many familiar
illustrations in cases where there has been a conviction of the
need of it, as, for example, in building regulations and in
provisions for safeguarding persons in the use of dangerous
machinery. So far as governmental power is concerned, we know of no
ground for an exception in the case of a locomotive headlight.
It cannot be said that the legislature acted arbitrarily in
prescribing electric light, in preference to others, or that,
having made this selection, it was not entitled to impose minimum
requirements to be observed in the use of the light. Witnesses for
the plaintiff in error, including its general superintendent of
motive power and other employees holding important positions and
conversant with the exigencies of operation, presented their
objections to the use of the electric headlight. Locomotive
engineers who for many years had driven locomotives with such a
light testified for the state, expressing a decided opinion in
favor of the use of electric headlights in the interest of safe
operation and submitting their views in answer to the objections
that had been urged. Assuming that there is room for differences of
opinion, this fact does not preclude the exercise of the
legislative discretion. So far as the question was one simply of
expediency -- as to the best method to provide the desired security
-- it was within the competency of the legislature to decide it.
N.Y. & N.E. R. Co. v. Bristol, 151 U.
, 151 U. S. 571
Chicago, B. &
Page 234 U. S. 289
Ry. Co. v. Illinois, 200 U. S. 561
200 U. S.
-584; McLean v. Arkansas, 211 U.
, 211 U. S.
-548; C., B. & Q. R. Co. v. McGuire,
219 U. S. 549
219 U. S.
-569, and cases there cited.
As to the objection that the statute makes no provision for
conditions beyond the carrier's control, it is sufficient to say
that, in the light of the construction placed upon the act by the
supreme court of the state, we are not at liberty to regard it as
open to this criticism (135 Ga. pp. 561, 562); certainly, no such
case is here presented. We conclude that there is no valid
objection to the statute upon the ground that it deprives the
carrier of liberty or property without due process of law.
The further contention is that the statute offends in denying to
the plaintiff in error the equal protection of the laws.
Specifically, the complaint is that the act does not apply to
receivers operating railroads, and that it expressly excepts tram
roads, mill roads, and roads engaged principally in lumber or
logging transportation in connection with mills. As to the first,
it cannot be said that the act does exclude receivers from its
requirements. The state court has ruled that the words "railroad
company" in the statute include natural persons as well as
corporations. It declined to decide that receivers were not
included; but, conceding, without deciding, that they were not, it
was held that the statute would not for that reason violate the
equal protection clause in view of the temporary and special
character of receivers' management. 135 Ga. pp. 555, 556. We concur
in this view. As to the exceptions made by the statute of tram
roads, mill roads, etc., it is impossible to say that the
differences with respect to operation and traffic conditions did
not present a reasonable basis for classification. Lindsley v.
National Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U. S. 61
220 U. S. 78
220 U. S. 81
Barrett v. Indiana, 229 U. S. 26
229 U. S. 30
German Alliance Ins. Co. v. Kansas, 233 U.
, 233 U. S.
Page 234 U. S. 290
Finally, it is urged that the statute constitutes an
unwarrantable interference with interstate commerce. The locomotive
with respect to which the accusation was made was at the time being
regularly used in the hauling of interstate freight trains over the
company's main line of railroad, and was equipped with an oil
headlight. The statute, as the supreme court of the state said, was
not directed against interstate commerce, but it was held that it
incidentally applied to locomotives used in hauling interstate
trains while these were moving on the main line in the State of
Georgia. This being so, the act is said to be repugnant to the
exclusive power of Congress. It is argued that, if Georgia may
prescribe an electric headlight, other states through which the
road runs may require headlights of a different sort; that, for
example, some may demand the use of acetylene, and that others may
require oil, and that, if state requirements conflict, it will be
necessary to carry additional apparatus and to make various
adjustments at state lines, which would delay and inconvenience
The argument is substantially the same as that which was
strongly presented to the court in New York, New Haven &
Hartford R. Co. v. New York, 165 U. S. 628
where the plaintiff in error was held subject to penalty for the
violation of a New York statute which in substance made it unlawful
for any steam railroad doing business in that state to heat its
passenger cars, on any other than mixed trains, by any stove or
furnace kept inside of the car or suspended therefrom. The railroad
company was a Connecticut corporation having but a few miles of
road within the State of New York, and operating through trains
from New York through Connecticut to Massachusetts. As this Court
said in its opinion, the argument was made that
"a conflict between state regulations in respect of the heating
of passenger cars used in interstate commerce would make safe and
Page 234 U. S. 291
transportation impossible; that to stop an express train on its
trip from New York to Boston at the Connecticut line in order that
passengers may leave the cars heated as required by New York, and
get into other cars heated in a different mode, in conformity with
the laws of Connecticut, and then at the Massachusetts line to get
into cars heated by still another mode, as required by the laws of
that commonwealth, would be a hardship on travel that could not be
But the Court ruled that these "possible inconveniences" could
"the question of power in each state to make such reasonable
regulations for the safety of passengers on interstate trains as,
in its judgment, all things considered, is appropriate and
165 U.S. 165 U. S.
In thus deciding, the Court applied the settled principle that,
in the absence of legislation by Congress, the states are not
denied the exercise of their power to secure safety in the physical
operation of railroad trains within their territory, even though
such trains are used in interstate commerce. That has been the law
since the beginning of railroad transportation. It was not intended
that, pending federal action, the use of such agencies, which,
unless carefully guarded, was fraught with danger to the community,
should go unregulated, and that the states should be without
authority to secure needed local protection. The requirements of a
state, of course, must not be arbitrary, or pass beyond the limits
of a fair judgment as to what the exigency demands, but they are
not invalid because another state, in the exercise of a similar
power, may not impose the same regulation. We may repeat what was
said in Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.
, 124 U. S.
"It is to be remembered that railroads are not natural highways
of trade and commerce. . . . The places where they may be located,
and the plans according to which they must be constructed, are
prescribed by the legislation of the state. Their operation
requires the use of instruments
Page 234 U. S. 292
and agencies attended with special risks and dangers, the proper
management of which involves peculiar knowledge, training, skill,
and care. The safety of the public in person and property demands
the use of specific guards and precautions. . . . The rules
prescribed for their construction and for their management and
operation, designed to protect persons and property, otherwise
endangered by their use, are strictly within the limits of the
local law. They are not per se
regulations of commerce; it
is only when they operate as such in the circumstances of their
application, and conflict with the expressed or presumed will of
Congress exerted on the same subject, that they can be required to
give way to the supreme authority of the Constitution."
See also Nashville &c Ry. Co. v. Alabama,
128 U. S. 96
Hennington v. Georgia, 163 U. S. 299
N.Y., N.H. & H. R. Co. v. New York, supra; Lake Shore &
M. S. Ry. Co. v. Ohio, 173 U. S. 285
Missouri P. R. Co. v. Larabee Flour Mills Co. 211 U.
S. 612, 211 U. S. 53 L.
ed. 352, 29 Sup.Ct. Rep. 214; Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v.
Kansas, 216 U. S. 262
Chicago, R.I. & Pac. Ry. Co. v. Arkansas, 219 U.
; Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.
, 230 U. S. 402
230 U. S.
If there is a conflict in such local regulations, by which
interstate commerce may be inconvenienced -- if there appears to be
need of standardization of safety appliances, and of providing
rules of operation which will govern the entire interstate road,
irrespective of state boundaries -- there is a simple remedy, and
it cannot be assumed that it will not be readily applied if there
be real occasion for it. That remedy does not rest in a denial to
the state, in the absence of conflicting federal action, of its
power to protect life and property within its borders, but it does
lie in the exercise of the paramount authority of Congress, in its
control of interstate commerce, to establish such regulations as,
in its judgment, may be deemed appropriate and sufficient.
Congress, when it pleases, may give the rule and make the standard
to be observed on the interstate highway.
Page 234 U. S. 293
It is suggested that Congress has acted in the present instance.
Reference is made to the Act of March 2, 1893, c. 196, 27 Stat.
531, relating to power driving-wheel brakes for locomotives, grab
irons, automatic couplers, and height of drawbars; to the Act of
March 2, 1903, c. 976, 32 Stat. 943, amending the Act of 1893; to
the Act of May 27, 1908, c. 200, 35 Stat. 324, 325, authorizing the
Interstate Commerce Commission to keep informed regarding
compliance with the Safety Appliance Act, and to investigate and
report on the need of any appliances or systems intended to promote
the safety of railway operations; to the Act of May 30, 1908, c.
225, 35 Stat. 476, relating to locomotive ash pans; to the Act of
April 14, 1910, c. 160, 36 Stat. 298, relating to sill steps, hand
brakes, ladders, running boards, and hand-holds, and providing that
the Interstate Commerce Commission should, after hearing, designate
the number, dimensions, location, and manner of application of
these appliances, and of those required by the Act of 1893; to the
detailed regulations prescribed by the Commission, on March 13,
1911, pursuant to this authority; to the Act of May 6, 1910, c.
208, 36 Stat. 350, requiring the Commission to investigate
accidents and make report as to their causes, with such
recommendations as they may deem proper, and to the Act of February
17, 1911, c. 103, 36 Stat. 913, relating to locomotive boilers.
But it is manifest that none of these acts provides regulations
for locomotive headlights. Attention is also called to the
investigations conducted by what is known as the "block signal and
train control board" (organized by the Commission), and the reports
of that board with respect to sundry devices and appliances,
including headlights. It does not appear, however, either that
Congress has acted or that the Commission, under the authority of
Congress, has established any regulation so far as headlights are
concerned. As to these, the situation has not been altered by any
exertion of federal power, and the
Page 234 U. S. 294
case stands as it has always stood, without regulation, unless
it be supplied by local authority. The most that can be said is
that inquiries have been made, but that Congress has not yet
decided to establish regulations, either directly or through its
subordinate body, as to the appliance in question. The intent to
supersede the exercise of the state's police power with respect to
this subject cannot be inferred from the restricted action which
thus far has been taken. Missouri Pacific v. Larabee Flour
Mills Co., 211 U. S. 612
Savage v. Jones, 225 U. S. 501
225 U. S.
The judgment is affirmed.