Motor Vehicles Regulations

The regulation of motor vehicles is a legitimate exercise of the police powers of the government.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and regulations, which should be complied by manufacturers of motor vehicles and equipment items.

In general, the goal of traffic regulations is to promote safety to the general public.  In order to reduce traffic accidents and deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents, it is necessary to prescribe motor vehicle safety standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment in interstate commerce and to conduct safety research and development[i].

The streets and public highways are dedicated for the primary purpose of travel.  They are for the use of all upon equal terms for any purpose consistent with the object for which they are established, subject to such valid regulations as prescribed by the constituted authorities for the public convenience and as much as possible, the rights of all should be conserved without undue discrimination[ii].

The power to regulate vehicles and their use of the public ways should not be used indirectly to control and regulate the business of the user.  Governmental regulations of motor vehicles generally apply only to operation on public streets and highways and it is not intended to control or regulate operation on private premises.

Generally, the rules governing the interpretation and construction of statutes and ordinances are applicable to regulations governing vehicles and their use upon the public ways.  It has been held that traffic regulations affecting safety should be liberally construed to effect their purpose.  In reading a traffic regulation, the court may view the statute as a whole and consider its purpose and what it regulates[iii].

A statute or ordinance providing discretionary power to an administrative agency should furnish standards required for those who administer such power.  So long as the discretion of administrative officers or boards in accomplishing the legal requirements is limited with clearly defined standards and policies to be implemented, there shall be no unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.

Corporate authorities shall by ordinance regulate, restrain, and control the speed of travel upon said pleasure drives, and prescribe the kind of vehicles that shall be allowed upon the same and in all things may regulate, restrain, and control the use of said pleasure driveways by the public or individuals.  They shall exclude funeral processions, hearses and traffic teams and vehicles, so as to free the same from any and all business traffic or objectionable travel, and make the same a pleasure driveway for pleasure driving only, and may prescribe in such ordinances such fines or penalties for the violation thereof as they are allowed by law to prescribe for the violation of other ordinances[iv].

There are many regulations in connection with motor vehicles and traffic upon public ways that shall be prescribed the authority of law.  All the states are required to enact and enforce regulations that consider an individual under the age of 21 who has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 percent or greater while operating a motor vehicle in the State to be driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol[v].

The legislature shall delegate the functions of a ministerial character in connection with motor vehicle and traffic regulation to:

  • The highway department.
  • A state department of transportation.
  • The motor vehicle commissioner or administration.
  • Park commissioners.
  • Police boards; or
  • Other public officers or boards.


The legislature not only has the power to delegate the power to perform an administrative function to a board or commission, but also has the power to revoke or change such delegation.  However, the legislature shall not take away the local power to regulate and shall not confer such power on another authority.

In order to provide an economical and efficient system for transportation of Federal Government personnel and property, the federal law requires the establishment of procedures to ensure safe operation of motor vehicles on Government business, to provide for proper identification of Government motor vehicles, to establish an effective means to limit the use of Government motor vehicles to official purposes, to reduce the number of Government-owned vehicles to the minimum necessary to transact public business, and to provide wherever practicable for centrally operated interagency pools or systems for local transportation of Government personnel and property[vi].

The controlling public authority shall prohibit, restrict, or condition the use of motor vehicles engaged in transportation for hire on the public highways.  The same rule is applicable to private contract carriers and common carriers.  Commercial motor carriers are generally regulated by the laws of each state.

[i] 49 USCS § 30101.

[ii] Wonewoc v. Taubert, 203 Wis. 73, 78 (Wis. 1930).

[iii] State v. Bissonette, 445 N.W.2d 843, 845 (Minn. Ct. App. 1989).

[iv] Cicero Lumber Co. v. Cicero, 176 Ill. 9 (Ill. 1898).

[v] 23 USCS § 161.

[vi] 40 USCS § 601.

Inside Motor Vehicles Regulations