Illinois Motor Vehicle Law – by Samuel S. DuHamel

Illinois Motor Vehicle Law


Samuel S. DuHamel

of the Springfield Bar

Author of “Illinois School Laws”


Benj. F. Cassiday

Of the Springfield Bar


Burdette J. Smith & Company




Brief History of Motor Vehicle Acts.

Before any statue regulating automobiles had been enacted, the city of Chicago had adopted an ordinance in 1902, providing that no one should operate an automobile upon the public streets of that city without being licensed as an automobile operator. The ordinance also regulated the speed of automobiles, the use of a bell, gong, brake and lamps. This ordinance was before the Appellate Court of the First District, where its validity was attacked on the ground that a city had no power to require a license for the use of private vehicles upon the streets, nor to impose a tax thereon by way of license.

The Court in passing upon said ordinance said, “The speed of automobiles may be regulated and reasonable safety appliances, such as gongs and brakes, may be required, but to compel one who uses his automobile for his private business and pleasure only to submit to an examination and take out a license (if the examining board see fit to grant it) is imposing a burden upon one class of citizens in the use of the streets, not imposed upon the others,” and held the ordinance invalid City of Chicago v. Banker, 112 Ill. app., 94.

The first legislative act relative to the regulation of automobiles was enacted by the Legislature May 13, 1903, and was entitled, “An Act to Regulate the Speed of Automobiles and other horseless conveyances upon the public streets, roads, and highways of the State of Illinois.” The first section of this Act limited the rates of speed upon the public highways of the State to fifteen miles an hour, and also made such speed subject to any regulation imposed by ordinance of any city or village. The second section required the driver of an automobile to bring his cart to a full stop in case horses should be frightened, and remain at a full stop until such horses had passed. The third section provided for penalties for violation of provisions of the statute, while the fourth section provided that the plaintiff in a cause or action, should be deemed to have made out a prima facie case by showing the fact of injury, and that the automobile at the time of such injury was running at a speed in excess of fifteen miles an hour. (Session Laws of 1903, page 301.)

This statute was before the Court in 1904 and an opinion was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1905, holding that, “The act in question was designed to secure the safety of travelers upon the public highway. It is a matter of common knowledge that an automobile is likely to frighten horses. It is propelled by a power within itself, is of unusual shape and form, is capable of a high rate of speed and produces a puffing noise while in motion. All of this makes such a horseless vehicle a source of danger to persons traveling upon the highway and vehicles drawn by horses.” Christy v. Elliot, 216 Ill., 31.

In the same case the Court held that such Act was not class legislation, neither did the Act deprive a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

The Court considered as hypocritical the objection to the title that it violated Section 13 of Article IV of the State Constitution.

In 1907 the Legislature enacted a new motor vehicle statue (See Laws of 1907, page 510).

The title of this Act was “An Act defining motor vehicles and providing for the registration of the same, and uniform rules regulating the use and speed thereof, and repealing an Act entitled ‘An Act to Regulate the Speed of Automobiles and other horseless conveyances upon the public streets, roads and highways of the State of Illinois,’ approved May 13, 1903, in force July 1, 1903, and repealing all other Acts or parts of Acts inconsistent therewith.” A review of the provisions of this Act is set forth by the Supreme Court in the Ayres case. Ayers v. City of Chicago, 239 Ill., 237; 87 N.E., 1073.

After such review, the Court said, “The Legislature has by the Motor Vehicle Act taken the subject of regulation of the speed and operation of automobiles out of the hands of local authorities and passed the Motor Vehicle Law as a general uniform regulation applicable alike to all municipalities of the State. The effect of this law manifestly is to abrogate all municipal ordinances designed to regulate the use of motor vehicles passed prior to the time such law went into force, and to deprive such municipalities of the power to pass such regulating ordinances in the future.”

However, the Court sustained the wheel tax ordinance adopted by the city of Chicago on the ground that the City and Village Act had been amended after the passage of the Motor Vehicle Law.

About the same time Section 18 of the Motor Vehicle Act of 1907 was under attack by the Supreme Court on the ground that such section was class legislation, and that the title of the Act was defective. The Court overruled both objections. Hartje v. Moxley, 235 Ill., 164; 85 N.E., 216.

In 1911 the Legislature again enacted a new Motor Vehicle Law, consisting of twenty-one sections. The constitutionality of this law was before the Supreme Court in 1912, where it was alleged that the Act was void because the title embraced more than one subject, or because the subjects within the Act are not embraced within the title. But the Court said, “The Act is not in violation of Section 13 of Article IV of the Constitution.” The provision of such Act permitting the Secretary of State to pay examiners whom he might employ out of funds in his hands without any appropriation by the Legislature, was declared invalid, but the Court said:

“Such invalidity did not effect the balance of the Act.” People v. Sargent, 254 Ill., 514; 98 N.E., 959.

In 1915 Sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 14, and 18 of the Act of 1911 were amended, and Sections 15a and 22 added to said Act. (Laws 1915, page 584.)

At the same session Section 12 of the Act of 1911 was amended. (Laws 1915, page 592.)

Said Section 12 of the Motor Vehicle Act of 1911 as amended was held constitutional in the case of Heartt v. Village of Downers Grove, 278 Ill., 92; 115 N.E.,  869.

The Court held that such section was based upon the police powers of the State and the intention of the Legislature, by such statute, according to the Court, was to bring the whole subject of regulating the use of motor vehicles under the control of the State.

In Westfalls Storage Co. v. Chicago, 280 Ill., 318; 117 N.E., 439, the validity of said Section 12 was again sustained, holding the classification of Motor Vehicles separately from horse drawn vehicles was reasonable. See also City of Chicago v. Francis, 262 Ill., 331; 104 N.E., 662 ; City of Lincoln v. Dehner, 268 Ill., 175; 108 N.E., 991 ; Graham v. Hagmann, 270 Ill., 252; 110 N.E., 337.

In 1917 Sections 3, 4, 7, 8, 12 and 13 of 1911 were amended and Section 15b was added. (Laws 1917, page 685.)

The constitutionality of Section 15b of the Motor Vehicle Act, added by amendment in 1917, was before the Court in the case of People v. Fernow, 268 Ill., 627; 122 N.E., 155.

The Court held that such section did not infringe upon the Bill of Rights or the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and that the section in question is within the general purpose of the Act, as expressed in the title, and further that such section was not class legislation.

The constitutionality of said Section 15b of the Act of 1917 was before the Court again in the case of People v. Johnson, 288 Ill., 442; 123 N.E., 543.

It was there urged that said section violates Section 2, Article II of the Constitution of this State, as well as section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, in that it deprived the defendant of his liberty and property without due process of law, and denied to him the equal protection of the laws. It was also contended that the statute is an arbitrary and unreasonable exercise of the police power of the State.

The Court held the section as a valid exercise of legislative power. Sections 2, 5, 19 of the Act of 1911 were also amended in 1917. (Laws 1917, page 691.)

Under Section 12 of the act of 1911, as amended in 1917, it was held that an ordinance forbidding motor vehicles on overtaking a street car, to pass on the left side of the car, is purely a traffic ordinance and is not in conflict with the Motor Vehicle Law. City of Chicago v. Keogh, 291 Ill., 188; 125 N.E., 881.

The constitutionality of Section 10 of the Automobile Law of 1911, as amended by laws of 1917, was before the Court in the case of People v. Beak, 291 Ill., 449; 126 N.E., 201.

The Court, in passing upon the question, said, “The regulation of the speed of Motor Vehicles, to safeguard pedestrians and others using the streets and highways, is a salutary exercise of the police power. The Motor Vehicle Act plainly states the highest rate of speed at which one may ordinarily drive in certain classifications of localities, the use of a greater speed being prima facie evidence of an unreasonable rate, which would render the person guilty of speeding.

The Court said the statute was invalid for the reasons urged.

In 1919 the Legislature passed a new Motor Vehicle Act, consisting of forty-seven sections and repealing all former Acts. (Laws 1919, page 668.) The constitutionality of this Act was before the Court in the case of People v. Sisk, 297 Ill., 314; 130 N.E., 696. The Court refused to hold the Act invalid on the ground that the putting of motor vehicles in a class by themselves is an unreasonable as a proper police regulation and was not foreign to the title of the Act.

The contention was also made in this case that the Act is unwise and ought to be held void by the Court, but the Court refused to assume the right to pass upon the wisdom or propriety of such a legislative enactment.

In this case will be found a review of the various decisions upon former Motor Vehicle Acts.

The constitutionality of Section 39 of the act of 1919 was raised in the case of People v. Clark, 301 Ill., 428; 134 N.E., 95, and the Court held such section unconstitutional because it was in effect, an attempt to amend the Criminal Code respecting punishment for larceny without complying with Section 13 of Article IV of the Constitution.

In 1921 the Act of 1919 was amended by amending Sections 3 and 4 and adding 43 ½ to said Act. (Laws 1921, page 571.) Another Act was passed at the same session of the Legislature, amending sections 17, 35 and 43, and still another, adding Section 9a to the Act of 1919. (Laws 1921, page 577.) At the same session, Section 36 was amended, also Section 14. (Laws 1921, page 579.)

At the same session, Senate Bill No. 408 added Sections 42a, 42b, 42c, and 42d to the act of 1919. (Laws 1921, page 580) These sections were declared invalid by the Supreme Court because they were unreasonable and tended to discriminate against taxicab operators who owned their own cars, and for the further reason that such regulations contained in such sections were unreasonable. People v. Kastings, 307 Ill., 92; 138 N.E., 269. The Act of 1919 was further amended by the Legislature in 1921, by amending Section 16 thereof (Laws 1921, page 583.)

At the same session an Act was passed in relation to the registration of the theft and recovery of motor vehicles. (Laws 1921, page 582.)

In the case of Morrison v. Flowers, 308 Ill., 189; 139 N.E., 10, it was contended that Section 22 of the Act of 1919 was unconstitutional for the reason that it was an attempt of the Legislature to exercise judicial power; that it deprived appellant of his property without due process of law and that it was special legislation, but the Court declared such section valid.

Section 35 of the Act of 1921, making it unlawful to have in one’s possession a motor vehicle, the original engine number of which has been destroyed, etc., as a valid exercise of the police power. People v. Biccardello, 319 Ill., 124; 149 N.E., 781.

In 1923 the Legislature again added Sections 42a, 42b, 42c and 42d to the Act of 1919. (Laws 1923, page 542.) Question of the validity of the whole Act of 1919, as amended, was before the Court, and Section 42a was declared valid in part and invalid in part by the Supreme Court in the case of Weksler v. Collins, 320 Ill., 605; 151 N.E., 675, where all of said sections were sustained except that part of Section 42 of the Act, with reference to bonds furnished by the company being a lien upon the real estate owned by the company, which was held invalid.

Section 4 of the Act of 1919 was amended in 1921. (Laws 1923, page 545.) Sections 8, 9, 16, 17, 27 of the Act of 1919 was amended and Sections 21a, 24a, and 41a were added in 1923. (Laws 1923, page 552.)

In 1923, Section 2 of the Act of 1919 was amended. (Laws 1923, page 555.)

In 1925, Sections 16 and 21 of the Act of 1919 were amended by House Bill No. 468, Section 8 and 45 were amended by House Bill No. 445, Section 23 was amended by Senate Bill No. 516, and Section 33 was amended by Senate Bill No. 79. (Laws 1925, pages 533 to 537.)

Section 26 of the Motor Vehicle Act of 1919 was held valid in the case of Roe v. The City of Jacksonville, 319 Ill., 215; 149 N.E., 812. In 1927, Sections 42e, 42f, 42g and 42h were added to the Act of 1919 by House Bill No. 154. Section 44a was amended by House Bill No. 409 and Section 3 was again amended by Senate Bill No. 346. (Laws 1927, page 762 to 765.)

Chapter III.


Sec. 1.   What are Public Highways? All roads in this state which have been laid out in pursuance of any law of this State, or of the Territory of Illinois, or which have been established by dedication or used by the public as highways for fifteen (15) years, and which have not been vacated in pursuance of law, are hereby declared to be public highways. [1]

The term “highway” is generic, inclusive of all public ways, and means a public road which every person, whether an inhabitant or a stranger, has a right to use for passage and traffic. The term will, therefore, include streets in cities, footways or sidewalks, turn-pikes, plank-roads and bridges. [2]

Sec. 2.   What is a Street? Most, if not all, of the lexicographers give the word “street” or “road” as a synonym for “highway”,” and in Dillon on Municipal Corporations, (Vol. 3, 5th ed.) the author says in Section 1121, that “for the purposes of legal nomenclature, at least, it would seem that the most generally accepted definitions of a street simply import that it is a public highway within an incorporated municipality.” Whether a street or road is a public highway may be proved by parol evidence.[3]

A public street is a passage open to all the citizens of the State to go and to return, pass and repass at their pleasure.  In the use of a public street the law recognizes no favorites. Subject to the law of the road, no one man or body of men has a superior right upon and in the street against the general public.[4]

Sec. 3.   Public Highways are Free. All roads constructed under the provisions of this subdivision of this Act, either by towns or districts or counties shall be free for public travel and kept in repair by the proper authorities thereof.[5]

The streets of a city from side to side and from end to end belong to the people, and they primarily have the right to the free and unobstructed use thereof.[6]

Sec. 4.   Highways to be Used for Travel. The customary, or usual and ordinary, use of a street is for travel from one point to another by the usual and lawful modes of travel.[7]

See Chapter IX, Sections 3 and 4.

The primary and paramount object in establishing streets and highways is for the purpose of public travel, and the public and individuals can not be rightfully deprived of such use. This right to use the highways and streets for purposes of travel is not, however, an absolute and unqualified one. The right may be limited and controlled by the State, or by a municipality under its authority derived from the State, in the exercise of its police power, whenever necessary to provide for and promote the safety, peace, health, morals and general welfare of the people, and is subject to such reasonable and impartial regulations adopted pursuant to this power as are calculated to secure to the general public the largest practical benefit from the enjoyment of the easement and to provide for their safety while using it.[8]

The customary or usual and ordinary use of a street is for the travel from one point to another, both along and across it. The use of a street by an automobile when operated with due care and caution and not in violation of State or municipal police regulations, would be deemed a proper and lawful one.[9]

Any person who places glass or causes glass to be placed upon any highway, road, bridge or street, or who breaks glass or causes glass to be broken upon any highway, road, bridge or street shall, unless he immediately removes the same therefrom, be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of not to exceed twenty-five dollars ($25.00)[10] See Section 10 post.

Highways are established and maintained at public expense for the mutual benefit of all, and all persons have a right to use them, subject only to the duty which the law imposes upon them that they shall at all times exercise ordinary care and caution for their own safety and also for the safety of all others who are traveling thereon in the exercise of their lawful rights.[11]

[1] Smith-Hurd’s Ch. 121, Sec..

[2] M. & O. R. Co. v. Davis, 130 Ill., 146, 22 N.E. 850; Heppes Co. v. City of Chicago, 146 Ill. App. 512; City of Chicago v. P. C. C. & St. L. R. R. Co., 146 Ill. App. 422.

[3] People v. Chamberis, 297 Ill. 455, 426-463, 130 N.E. 712; Woburn v. Henshaw, 101 Mass. 193.

[4] Chicago Union Traction Co. v. Stanford, 104 Ill. App 99.

[5] Smith-Hurd’s Chap. 121, Sec. 136.

[6] King v. Swanson, 216 Ill. App. 294.

[7] Smiley v. East St. Louis Ry. Co., 256 Ill. 482, 487, 100 N.E. 157.

[8] Elie v. Adams Express Co., 300 Ill. 340, 344, 133 N.E. 243.

[9] Jenkins v. Goodall, 183 Ill. App. 637

[10] Smith-Hurd’s, Chap. 121, Sec. 157.

[11] Graham v. Hagmann, 270 Ill. 252, 110 N.E. 337.


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