515.4D2A/14

The Chairman of the American Delegation to the Pan American Conference on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic (Drake) to the Secretary of State17

Sir: I beg to submit herewith a report on the Pan American Conference on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic, held at the Pan American Union in Washington, from October 4th to 6th, 1930, and the text of the Convention signed on the latter date.17a Certified copies of the Convention have been sent by the Pan American Union to the Government of the United States as well as to the Governments of the other American Republics.

The Conference was convened by the Governing Board of the Pan American Union, with representatives of the following States in attendance, all of whom signed the Convention.

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • United States of America
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

The Delegation appointed to represent the Government of the United States at the Conference consisted of Messrs. Tasker L. Oddie, Cyrenus Cole, Francis White, Thos. H. MacDonald, Frank Sheets, Frederick Reimer, H. H. Rice, A. B. Barber, Robert Hooper, and the undersigned.

Of this group, Messrs. Oddie, Cole, MacDonald, Sheets, Reimer, Rice and the undersigned represented the United States at the Second Pan American Highway Congress at Rio de Janeiro in August, 1929, at which the draft convention on the regulation of automotive traffic was formulated.18

Antecedents of the Convention

It has occurred to me that it might be desirable to set forth the antecedents, and give a brief review of the steps preceding the signing of the Convention.

The initial step toward the regulation of international automotive [Page 303] traffic in the Republics of the Western Hemisphere was taken at the Sixth International Conference of American States, held at Havana, Cuba, in 1928.19 At that time a resolution was adopted recommending that the Second Pan American Highway Congress “formulate the bases of a convention for the international regulation of automotive traffic between the countries that are members of the Pan American Union.”

To facilitate the work of the Second Pan American Highway Congress, and in order that the delegates to that meeting might have something to serve as a basis of discussion, the Governing Board of the Pan American Union requested the Pan American Confederation for Highway Education to undertake a study of the subject and to formulate a project that might be transmitted by the Governing Board to the Highway Congress at Rio de Janeiro. The Confederation for Highway Education was organized in 1924 by a group of highway engineers of Latin America who were invited to visit the United States as guests of the Highway Education Board and undertake a study of highway construction, administration and finance as practiced in this country.20 On the termination of the tour, conferences were held at the Pan American Union, at which the Highway Confederation was created, with National Federations in each country and with the headquarters of the Executive Committee established at the Pan American Union. As the purpose of the Confederation is to promote by every possible means all phases of highway activity, the Executive Committee of the Confederation immediately accepted the invitation of the Governing Board.

The Executive Committee of the Confederation made a thorough study of the existing conventions on the regulation of automotive traffic, including the Paris Conventions of 1909 and 1926, and also availed itself of the studies made by the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety appointed by President Hoover while Secretary of Commerce. The results of these studies were incorporated into a draft convention submitted to the Pan American Union, and in turn transmitted to the Second Pan American Highway Congress at Rio de Janeiro. At that Congress the draft convention was approved with virtually no modifications, but as the delegates did not possess the necessary powers to sign a convention, the Congress limited itself to the adoption of a resolution approving the draft and forwarding it to the Pan American Union.

The Governing Board of the Pan American Union appointed a [Page 304] Special Committee to consider the resolutions adopted at the Second Pan American Highway Congress, and with respect to the draft convention on the regulation of automotive traffic recommended that the Director General be authorized to transmit the draft to the Governments, members of the Union; and further, that the delegates of the American Republics to the Sixth International Road Congress be authorized to sign the Convention at a special conference to be held at that time at the Pan American Union. This recommendation was unanimously approved by the Board, and communications were dispatched to the Governments of the American Republics, transmitting the draft convention and requesting that the necessary authority be conferred upon the delegates of the respective countries to the Sixth International Road Congress21 to meet in special session at the Pan American Union to consider and, if found acceptable, to sign the Convention on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic.

The Conference at Washington

The Conference at the Pan American Union was convened on Saturday, October 4th, at 10 o’clock by the Director General of the Union, Dr. L. S. Rowe, who spoke as follows:

“Gentlemen of the Conference:

I deem it a very real privilege to extend to you the warmest possible welcome on behalf of the Pan American Union. You are assembled to fulfill a most important mission. In giving final and definite form to the great work accomplished by the Second Pan American Highway Congress which met at Rio de Janeiro in August, 1929, you are laying the foundation for important steps in the development of closer communication between the nations of the American Continent. The Convention on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic which is to be submitted to you is destined to be one of the most important influences in giving the fullest measure of efficiency to that great factor in inter-American communication, namely, the motor highway. The successful operation of a Pan American Highway, which is no longer in the realm of speculation, but has come within the confines of reality, requires uniform standards of regulation, which the proposed convention is intended to supply.

Permit me to congratulate you on the services which you are rendering to the entire Continent in considering this important matter, and at the same time to wish you the fullest measure of success in your deliberations.”

Nominations for Permanent Chairman were then opened, and the undersigned, as Chairman of the Delegation of the United States, was elected. After expressing appreciation for the honor conferred [Page 305] upon him, the Chairman stated the purpose of the Conference and suggested that the Convention be taken up article by article.

In the interval between the Second Pan American Highway Congress and the meeting at the Pan American Union, the Pan American Confederation for Highway Education had given further study to the draft convention, and had proposed modifications intended to bring the provisions of the convention into harmony with the latest practices and to correlate the terms thereof with those contained in the International Conventions for the Circulation of Automobiles, signed at Paris in 1909 and 1926.

After all the articles of the Convention had been examined and discussed, a Drafting Committee was appointed to prepare the Convention for signature. This Committee consisted of the following delegates:

For the Spanish version Juan Agustín Valle of Argentina
Homero Viteri Lafronte of Ecuador
Adrian Recinos of Guatemala
For the Portuguese version Godofredo M. de Menezes and Arnaldo M. [A.] da Motta of Brazil
For the English version Thomas H. MacDonald of the United States.

The session of Monday, October 6th, was called to order by the Chairman at 5:00 P.M. The Convention was submitted by the Drafting Committee in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and was thereupon signed by the representatives of the nineteen countries in attendance.

In accordance with the suggestion of the Chairman of the Brazilian Delegation, His Excellency, Dr. S. Gurgel do Amaral, Ambassador to the United States, that a study be made of road signs in order that they might be made uniform throughout the American Continent, the Drafting Committee submitted the following resolution which was unanimously adopted:

“Whereas Article XI of the Convention on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic provides that ‘Danger, restriction and direction signs should [shall] be made uniform as between the several States,’

“The Pan American Conference on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic, resolves:

“To recommend that the question of uniform danger, restriction and direction signs be given preferential consideration by the Pan American Union, in cooperation with the Pan American Confederation for Highway Education and other interested bodies, and [Page 306] that this subject be submitted for the consideration and approval of the delegates to the Third Pan American Highway Congress.”22

The signing of the Convention and the adoption of the foregoing resolution completed the work for which the Conference was convened. In declaring the Conference adjourned, the Chairman spoke as follows:

“The signing of the Convention today by the delegates of the Pan American States, establishing uniform regulations of international highway use, marks an important practical step in bringing the peoples of those countries into closer relations and understanding through the medium of modern motor transportation. The countries whose representatives have signed the Convention have said to each other, in effect, ‘The gate at the frontier is open; the latch-string is out.’

“During the past few years, the efforts of leading men of the various Pan American countries have been devoted to the stimulation of highway building, which will offer to all the advantages in social and economic ways that grow out of the opening of modern highways and the flow of modern motor traffic. Through long and patient effort upon the part of these men, devoted to these highways of friendship, this Convention has been evolved, which represents a large measure of progress toward the ultimate development of widespread modern highway transportation facilities connecting the Pan American States, and it is a vital prerequisite to that end, because adequate highway transportation cannot be developed unless it is free from the influence of widely divergent regulations affecting the use of vehicles upon the highways connecting the various countries. There are countless matters of an intricate, technical, and practical nature that bear upon the operation of vehicles and the use of highways in a safe and effective manner, and it is no easy task to bring the minds of nineteen countries to agree upon uniformity. To accomplish that end, a large degree of concession and compromise is required. Probably no convention would ever have been agreed upon which would embody all the proposals that might have been put forward for the regulation and safeguarding of motor transportation and highway use. But in a fine spirit of consideration for the views of each other, the representatives of the signatory states have come to an accord upon the minimum and essential requirements and have thereby made possible this Convention. This Convention, therefore, represents a tremendous gain for those countries, not only in the economic and social advantages toward which its operation will assist, but in a larger sense, it is a demonstration of enduring valuable friendships between the Pan American countries and peoples and of their willingness and eagerness to meet upon the common ground of practical affairs in the interests of closer acquaintance and understanding. The Convention is indeed a tangible and practical affair that reduces to concrete terms the real intent of the Pan American countries to cooperate for the mutual benefit of their peoples in making modern highways and motor transportation available to all of them.

“Under the auspices of the Pan American Union and through the [Page 307] agency of the Pan American Confederation for Highway Education the encouragement and promotion of modern highway building is proceeding rapidly with marked results in the Pan American countries. The signing of this Convention is tangible evidence on which to base the belief that in the not distant future those countries will be enjoying the advantages of modern highway transportation from one to the other without let or hindrance.”

The discussions at the Conference were inspired by the utmost good will, and with a profound appreciation of the significance of the subject under discussion. The subject of highway construction has only within recent years received serious attention in any of the Republics of Latin America, but in that time rapid progress has been made in all the countries, and today every nation of the American Continent has a constructive program of highway expansion.

The Inter-American Highway

In the highway programs of the several countries one of the items of major importance is that of a road or system of roads that will connect all the Republics of the American Continent, and extend from the United States on the north to Argentina and Chile on the south—in other words, Inter-American Highways. Since the Fifth International Conference of American States adopted a resolution recommending the holding of a Pan American Highway Congress,23 the subject of roads in the American Republics has received preferential attention at a number of international conferences. As already stated, a commission of Pan American highway engineers visited the United States in 1924 as guests of the Highway Education Board, to study highway construction, administration and finance as practiced in the United States. The outcome of this visit was the creation of the Pan American Confederation for Highway Education, which has ever since been an instrumental factor in promoting road construction on the American Continent. Two Pan American Highway Congresses have also been held, the First at Buenos Aires in October, 1925,24 and the Second at Rio de Janeiro in August, 1929.

At both of these Congresses, approval was given to the idea of an Inter-American Highway or system of highways that will connect the countries of the Western Hemisphere. As a practical step in the fulfillment of this plan, particularly that portion extending from Panama northward to the United States, an Inter-American Highway [Page 308] Conference met at Panama in October, 1929, with representatives in attendance from Panama, the Republics of Central America and the United States. At that time an Inter-American Highway Commission was created, to be composed of members appointed by the several Governments. Prior to that time, and as a demonstration of the interest of the Government of the United States in the construction of an Inter-American Highway, the cooperation of engineers of the Bureau of Public Roads of the Department of Agriculture had been offered to any Latin American Republic which might request such cooperation through the Pan American Union. Subsequently an appropriation of $50,000 was made available by the Congress of the United States to provide for such cooperation. Pursuant to requests from a number of the Central American countries for assistance in locating the route of the Inter-American Highway through their respective countries, engineers of the Bureau of Public Roads have been sent to Panama for the purpose of establishing an office and making the necessary preparations to undertake reconnaissance surveys to determine the most feasible route of the Inter-American Highway.25 It is expected that the Inter-American Highway Commission created by the Conference which met at Panama in October, 1929, will meet shortly at Panama to discuss questions connected with the reconnaissance surveys.

An evidence of the interest of all the Republics of the Continent in the Inter-American Highway or system of highways was afforded at the Conference on the Regulation of Automotive Traffic, at which an informal conference of all the delegates was arranged after the Convention had been formally signed. The purpose of this informal gathering was specifically to discuss the question of the Inter-American Highway. After a lengthy exchange of views, in which Mr. Thomas H. MacDonald of the United States Bureau of Public Roads, who has been an earnest worker in this whole movement, explained the central organization that has been established for the prosecution of the work, the following resolution was submitted and unanimously adopted:

“Whereas, the representatives of the various Governments, members of the Pan American Union, who are attending the Sixth International Road Congress at Washington and who have just signed a Convention covering the regulation of international motor traffic between those countries, now wish to record their approval of the work already begun in furthering the realization of the great Pan American system of highways; be it

Resolved, That they urge the Pan American Union and the Pan American Confederation for Highway Education to proceed as expeditiously as possible with the work recommended by the Road Conferences of Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Panama, and [Page 309] further, that they pledge their support to all activities leading toward the early realization of the great Pan American system of highways.”

The extension of the system of highways in the Republics of the American Continent should prove of great importance in the development of international automotive traffic between the several Republics, and emphasizes the need of adequate regulations to govern the movement of such traffic. It is felt, therefore, that it is a matter of paramount importance to the United States, which will be the recipient of a large proportion of this international highway traffic, that the Convention signed at Washington on October 6th, 1930, receive the favorable approval and ratification of the Government of the United States.

Respectfully submitted,

J. Walter Drake

  1. Transmitted to the Department by the chairman of the American delegation in covering letter of December 5.
  2. Supra.
  3. Report of the Delegation From the United States of America, Second Pan American Highway Congress, Rio de Janeiro, August 16 to 28, 1929 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1930), p. 16.
  4. Report of the Delegates of the United States of America to the Sixth International Conference of American States, Held at Habana, Cuba, January 16 to February 20, 1928, With Appendices (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1928), appendix 40, p. 274.
  5. See The Pan American Confederation for Highway Education, Its Aims and Purposes, Constitution and By-Laws (Washington, Pan American Union, [1927]).
  6. See Sixth International Road Congress, Washington, D. C, 1930, Proceedings of the Congress (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1931). The official opening session of the Congress took place on October 6, 1930.
  7. Held at Santiago de Chile, January 11–19, 1939; Tercer Congreso Panamericano de Carreteras (Santiago de Chile, Imprenta Universitaria, 1940).
  8. Report of the Delegates of the United States of America to the Fifth International Conference of American States, Held at Santiago, Chile, March 25 to May 3, 1923, With Appendices (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1924), pp. 14, 167–168.
  9. Report of the Delegates of the United States [to the First] Pan American Congress of Highways, Buenos Aires, October 5–16, 1925 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1927).
  10. See pp. 279 ff.