OLR Research Report

July 1, 2004




By: Ryan O'Neil, Research Assistant

You asked what legislation allows Pennsylvania to put “No Jake Brake” on highway signs.

“Jake brakes,” a term often used to refer to a type of device that works with a diesel engine to slow a vehicle down, are manufactured by Jacobs Vehicle Systems. Pennsylvania started allowing municipalities to post signs saying “Jake Brake Prohibition” in 1996. The company alleged the signs “potentially violated U.S. Federal trademark laws” and that “use of this is an unfair use of the Jacob's trademark.” In 2001, Pennsylvania stopped using the term on its signs and now uses the generic term, “brake retarders,” instead.

The devices work by allowing air to be exhausted out of the pistons of a diesel engine. This can often be extremely noisy, depending on the make, condition, and use of the device. As a result, people have sought to limit their use in populated areas.

Pennsylvania regulations say, in part, “The use of brake retarders may not be prohibited by a local authority unless prior written approval is obtained from the Department of Transportation. If the Department denies written approval, a local authority may file an application for reconsideration . . . .” (67 Pa. Code 179.10(20)).

According to Mark Alexander of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Traffic Engineering & Operations Division, only municipalities erect these signs. The state's criteria for approval cover road features and the crash history for the stretch of road. Road features must not include

1. downhill grade(s) greater than 4%,

2. a posted reduced speed limit for trucks due to a hazardous grade determination,

3. posted reduced gear zone(s),

4. posted speed limits over 55 miles per hour, and

5. highway exit ramps with a posted speed limit over 55 miles per hour.

The crash history for the stretch of road a municipality is seeking to keep brake-retarder free must not include

1. a history of runaway truck crashes over the past three years and

2. a discernible pattern of rear-end crashes over the past three years where the truck was the striking vehicle.

Approved signs read, “Brake Retarders Prohibited Within Municipal Limits.” A sign must be posted at the point where trucks may start to use brake retarders again, reading, “End Brake Retarder Prohibition.”