September 22, 2004
By: Janet L. Kaminski, Associate Legislative Attorney
You asked if any states prohibit or restrict the use of “Jake Brakes.” This report has been updated by OLR Report 2021-R-0102.
“Jake Brake,” a registered trademark of Jacobs Vehicle Systems, Inc. (Jacobs), commonly refers to a brake retarder, which is a supplemental brake used on trucks and buses that assists in slowing down the vehicle. Safety and vehicle maintenance cost savings are cited as reasons for using them. While in use, a brake retarder makes a distinctive staccato sound, which can be quite loud. As a result, citizens have sought to limit their use in populated areas.
Brake retarder use is mostly regulated at the local level. Many municipalities have banned the use of engine compression brakes because of their noise emission, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
At a state level, we found four states that have statutes specifically addressing brake retarder use (California, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon). Numerous states address it in regulations (Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming). While some place restrictions on the use, many states explicitly permit brake retarder use by certain vehicles or in certain situations.
“Jake Brake” is a registered trademark of Jacobs Vehicle Systems, Inc. (Jacobs). The term is often used to refer to engine compression release brakes, but actually refers to all of Jacobs’ retarding products. A brake retarder is a supplemental brake used on large motor vehicles that slows the vehicle but is not designed to stop it completely. Such devices are common on long haul trucks and buses.
Brake retarder designs include compression release, exhaust, electrical, and mechanical systems, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These engine brakes are often activated when the accelerator pedal is released, but a driver may also activate it with a separate control or by applying the brake pedal. The device works by changing the action of the exhaust valves, allowing air to be compressed out of the engine pistons, which slows the vehicle.
There are several reasons for using a brake retarder, according to Jacobs. Such a device (1) controls vehicle speed with minimal use of wheel or service brakes on downhill grades and in traffic; (2) minimizes the speed differential between cars and trucks; (3) reduces break fade (overheating and glazing that leads to a loss of wheel brake effectiveness); (4) reduces wear on the engine, tires, and wheel brakes; and (5) reduces vehicle maintenance costs. In many cases, stopping distance will be longer without an engine brake.
While in use, a brake retarder makes a distinctive staccato sound, which can be quite loud. As a result, citizens have sought to limit their use in populated areas. Engine brake noise is a component of exhaust noise and can be controlled with a functioning muffler. The sound is loudest when used on a vehicle with poorly muffled or unmuffled exhaust systems, according to Jacobs. Most states, including Connecticut, require motor vehicles to be equipped and operated with a muffler in good working order (C.G.S. § 14-80).
brake retarder regulation
Many municipalities have banned the use of engine compression brakes because of their noise emission, according to NHTSA. For example, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, prohibits as a nuisance any noise caused by operating a motor vehicle with an engine brake engaged within the city (Glenwood Springs Municipal Code § 100.070.030(3)). Overland Park, Kansas, prohibits the use of a compression release engine braking system without a muffler (OP Traffic Ordinance § 12.04.175.1). Springdale, Arkansas, prohibits as a nuisance engine brake noise emission, except when such devices are used as a safety device (Springdale County Code § 42-52(13).
Before a municipality can issue an ordinance, it needs to verify that it has authority. For example, the New York Office of Attorney General has opined that a village is not authorized to enact a prohibition of truck engine compression brake use within the village because state law regulates the use of streets and highways. The New York legislature has not delegated such authority to villages (1999 WL 988077 (N.Y.A.G.)).
We found four states that have statutes specifically addressing brake retarder use (California, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon). Numerous states address it in regulations. While some place restrictions on the use, many states require or permit brake retarder use by certain vehicles or in certain situations.
California requires fire trucks exceeding 31,000 gross vehicle weight rating to be equipped with a retarder (Cal. Veh. Code §§35002(b)(2) and 521).
Colorado requires commercial vehicles equipped with an engine compression brake device to have a muffler. Any person who violates this requirement is subject to a $500 fine (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-255). Colorado also prohibits passengers of school buses used in mountainous terrain from front row and emergency exit seats unless the bus is equipped with retarders. The general assembly encourages school districts to install electromagnetic or state-of-the-art retarders in school buses (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-1901).
Kansas prohibits the use of engine-retarder brakes on a special vehicle combination consisting of a truck tractor, semi-trailer, trailer, and trailer (Kan. Admin. Regs. 36-1-31).
Montana requires commercial vehicles equipped with an engine-compression brake device to have a muffler in good working condition. A person operating a commercial vehicle with a factory-installed muffler or equivalent after-market muffler may not be prohibited from using an engine compression brake device (Mont. Code Ann. § 61-9-321). Montana also prohibits “indiscriminate use of engine brake retarders” by drivers pf special vehicle combinations consisting of a truck, trailer, and trailer or truck tractor, semi-trailer, trailer, and trailer (Mont. Admin. R. 18.8.517).
Oklahoma prohibits “indiscriminate use of engine brake retarders” by special combination vehicle drivers (Okla. Admin. Code § 595:30-5-4).
Oregon prohibits a person from operating a motor vehicle on a highway with “unmuffled engine brakes,” which is defined as an engine brake that is not equipped with a muffler in good working order. A person found in violation commits a Class A traffic violation, which imposes a fine up to $720 (Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 811.492, 801.263, and 153.018).
Pennsylvania requires vehicles operating on a highway with a gross weight exceeding 80,000 pounds to be equipped with an engine-, exhaust-, or hydraulic-brake retarder in good working order. A local authority cannot prohibit brake retarder use unless the Department of Transportation gives prior written approval (67 Pa. Code § 179.10(20)). For additional details on the department’s review of prohibition requests, see OLR Report 2004-R-515 (copy enclosed).
Other States have regulations that permit school buses to be equipped with brake retarders (Arkansas, Delaware, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming).