‘No Jake Brakes” signs seek to control truck noise, create legal ruckus

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I’m wondering what it would take to get a 'No Jake Brakes' sign posted for northbound big rigs approaching the fishhook. There are a couple guys that enjoy rattling our neighborhood very early in the morning. I’m guessing it’s logging trucks slowing for the turn to head up to Big Creek Lumber. Years ago, they posted those signs on Mount Herman road to quiet down the sand trucks. Thanks, Jim Amos, Santa Cruz A: I passed your question along to Caltrans, which returned a very thorough response. Here's the short version: A few years ago, the city of Carmichael created similar signs using the term "Jake Brakes," resulting in a lawsuit by Jakob Industries, the manufacturer of “Jake Brakes.” The company contended that “Jake Brakes” is a proprietary name and the city had no right to use that name. Thus, Carmichael changed the signs to include the term, “Engine Breaks” but those signs have since been removed. "As a result of the litigation, many issues have opened as to other potential problems brought to light by the trucking industry," said Susana Cruz, Caltrans spokeswoman. Apparently, there are signs around Grants Pass in Oregon, but Caltrans knows little more about them. Here in California, such signs are not allowed on the state right-of-way, "regardless of how they are worded," she added. "Such signing had once been considered to be a standard sign for Caltrans but was not recommended or approved due to the aforementioned 'many issues' it will create if approved," Cruz continued. The issues with such signage includes the following, she said:
  • Liability: If a public entity passed an ordinance against the use of engine brakes, it could be sued by a truck driver who had gotten into a collision and claimed he couldn't stop in time because he was prohibited from using his engine brakes. Millions of dollars would be at stake if the driver prevails in court.
  • Legality: "According to Caltrans, the CHP headquarters has officially stated that any vehicle muffler system that its noise level is legal to accelerate, then its noise level is legal to decelerate thus the use of engine breaks is not a violation of the Vehicle Code," said Cruz.
  • Enforcement: Noise ordinances are difficult to enforce. They would require noise monitoring equipment, training of personnel to use said equipment, staking out for enforcement and then facing the fact that the "final analysis maybe in conflict with the State Vehicle Code setting standard for noise levels for muffler systems."
In conclusion, the only way to install signs that prohibit the use of engine brakes in this community, the county would have to pass an ordinance banning the practice. The county also would have to be prepared to assume the expense and liability by posting a bond.
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