Just a brief Internet search can turn up hundreds of online newspaper articles centered around one issue: the use of commercial truck “jake brakes” in and around small towns.
Wherever people live close to truck-access roads, the problem can come up: Truck drivers use these loud braking systems to slow down their vehicles in efficient ways, but they also bring a lot of noise into neighborhoods.
Jake brakes are a supplementary engine-braking system to complement the conventional brakes on a large truck. The idea is that by using the engine braking system, drivers can reduce wear on the vehicle. The brakes earned their nickname from one of the companies more popularly know for manufacturing them, the Jacobs Company.
Jake brakes are especially controversial in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which see a lot of truck traffic, and many small towns with independent local government, due to the state’s Commonwealth system of local municipal leadership. Residents often attend town meetings to complain about the noise from truck brakes and ask leaders for solutions.
However, regulating these noisy braking systems can be difficult. Many towns may have a noise ordinance but not one that specifically addresses truck noise. To allow local police to enforce bans on jake brakes, there has to be a specific ordinance, but it also has to be approved by the state Department of Transportation.
Elizabethtown Borough, a town of about 11,600 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is one place where local officials have at least looked into the nuts and bolts of jake brake bans. In a May meeting, the board passed an ordinance to control jake brake activity on some local roads. But the ordinance can only be applied to certain sections of road in the borough.
Part of the problem is that the PA DOT only allows for jake brake bans on specific sections of road with a shallow grade. This is because the agency finds it reasonable for trucks to be able to use all of their braking systems on a steeper grade. So for residents, whether a ban can work is partially determined by how steep the road is near a home. Residents will often call for blanket bans on a particular road, but the ordinance doesn’t work if there’s a grade.
All of this demonstrates how very tricky it is to work with a state agency to get a real, actionable ban on loud braking activity. Residents in some places can get limited relief, while others will have to learn to live with truck noise on big roads.