No Engine Brakes

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive at Town Hall is about the noisy brakes trucks use when they make their way into the Hamlet. The Town recently received this explanation after requesting that the NYSDOT install “No Engine Brakes” signs on routes 22 and 23 on the edges of the Hamlet.  The issue is that compression release engine brakes, frequently called “Jake brakes,” are not subtle. When activated, they open exhaust valves in the cylinders after the compression cycle, releasing the compressed air trapped in the cylinders, and slowing the vehicle.

The DOT response explains that they do NOT prohibit the use of engine brakes because they are (a) effective and (b) not that noisy. (Residents and shop owners beg to differ.) Curiously, the NYS Bridge Authority (a different entity from the DOT) installs “No Engine Brakes” signs near bridges across the State.

The response from a NYSDOT Transportation Analyst:

Dear Supervisor:

Thank you for your email to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) requesting the evaluation of the existing Reduced Speed Limit Ahead signs on routes 22 and 23 (particularly the approach from the west on Route 23) in the Town of Hillsdale and information as to why “no engine brake” (Jake Brake) signs are not allowed on the state highway system.

Please understand that New York State does not allow the use of a sign to ban the use of a “Jake Brake”.

Numerous communities have proposed noise abatement legislation in the past. The NYSDOT has advised them that noise restrictions can be enacted per Section 386 of the Vehicle & Traffic law but the outright prohibition of the use of engine brakes, commonly referred to as “Jake Brakes” is not encouraged.

Enacting a traffic ordinance to deal with Jake Brake use may seem like a kind and responsive action to improve quality of life.  However, engine brakes are very effective at reducing the speed of heavy trucks on a downgrade, thereby making it quicker for trucks to step to avoid an entering vehicle or pedestrian. In most cases, the braking distance will be longer without the engine braking system and this could lead to reduced safety at the bottom of a hill.

Since 1978 the Federal government has required all vehicles manufactured to meet noise requirements when delivered to the customer. Today, trucks are required to emit less than 80 dBa of noise when they drive by, as measured at 50 feet. In many “noisy truck” areas, the real problem is modified or defective exhaust systems. New York State has a law on the books that prohibits operating a motor vehicle on a public highway without a serviceable muffler. Police agencies have the authority to stop noisy vehicles, check them for muffler integrity and cite those that are not in compliance. Such enforcement could produce a noticeable improvement in the quality of life for a community. In New York, the appropriate section of the Vehicle & Traffic Law is Section 386, Motor Vehicle Sound Level Limits.

A copy of the law can be found here

Since the Jake Brake is a legitimate safety device, the NYSDOT does not support prohibiting its use where justified. However, the NYSDOT realizes that Jake Brakes are used inappropriately at times and this can create quality of life problems. The NYSDOT believes most of the noise emitted is the result of faulty exhaust systems, and the best solution may be to enforce the Vehicle & Traffic Law on vehicle sound level limits at problem locations. Please be advised that Vehicle &Traffic Law and Motor Vehicle Sound Level Limits can only be enforced by law enforcement agencies.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. If you require further information on this request, please contact the Regional Traffic Safety and Mobility Group at (845) 437-3396.

Posted by Supervisor Peter Cipkowski, July 2018