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 Georgia, 545), whereupon final judgment was entered and this writ of error was sued out.
The material portions of the statute are as follows:
"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 Section 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 practise is properly conducive to safety, or a new method affording greater protection should be substituted, is a matter for the legislature judgment. But it is insisted that the legislature has gone beyond the
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 employes 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 was 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.R. Co. v. Bristol, 151 U.S. 556, 571; C., B. & Q.
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 Georgia, 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 Georgia, 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. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61, 78, 81; Barrett v. Indiana, 229 U.S. 26, 30; German Alliance Ins. Co. v. Kansas, 233 U.S. 389, 418.
The argument is substantially the same as that which was strongly presented to the court in New York, New Haven & Hartford R.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 rapid
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.S. 465, 481, 482: "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
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.
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
The judgment is affirmed.