Truck News


A bark worse than any bite

HUTTONVILLE, Ont. - At the point of no return, engine brakes often save lives; not only in the case of the trucker, but also the person who has the potential to be on the other end of an accident.Howe...

HUTTONVILLE, Ont. – At the point of no return, engine brakes often save lives; not only in the case of the trucker, but also the person who has the potential to be on the other end of an accident.

However, those who live along hilly roadways frequented by trucks often feel victimized by the loud cracking of engine brakes.

Frank Piccolotto has lived in the small town of Huttonville (just northwest of Toronto) since 1980.

His home overlooks Mississauga Rd., near Queen St. This is where he and his family have enjoyed their summers sitting in their back yard, soaking up the scenery.

This year, he says, the peaceful setting has been shattered.

“I was home all last summer, but this year it is unbelievable the amount of traffic,” says Piccolotto. He insists the traffic is not the problem, “It’s the noise.”

“It’s the use of the Jake brake that is destroying the peaceful neighborhood,” says Piccolotto who lives on a hill with an eight per cent grade. In May, he posted two signs alongside the roadway, which read “Truckers! No “Jake Brake” Please!” followed by the second sign simply emphasizing, “Please.”

An auxiliary braking system designed for heavy-duty trucks, an engine brake helps control the speed of the vehicle while enhancing the operators’ control. The slowing of the truck takes place by opening the exhaust valves to release air compressed in the engine while decelerating, creating a distinct staccato sound. Trucks which do not have a proper muffler installed will be excessively loud in brake mode, as well as when accelerating.

Jacobs Vehicle Systems, being a pioneer of such systems, feels the effects of the bad publicity.

“We’ve certainly been slightly devalued by this whole thing because people are pointing to the wrong cause of a very annoying problem,” says Brian Mauriello, market developer for Jacobs.

Jacobs asks people who have seen a sign protesting “Jake Brakes” to let them know via their Web site ( “We ask for the verbiage of the sign, the location of it and basically the ones that say no Jake brakes, no Jaking, or anything with the word Jake, which is obviously a protected registered trademark with Jacobs Vehicle Systems,” explains Mauriello.

Once the location of the sign is determined a letter is sent to the town notifying them they have violated the trademark.

“Secondly, there is a root cause to the loud noise they are hearing, but as it turns out, its not the engine brake, but the fact that the vehicle is not equipped with a muffler – that’s why it is so loud,” says Mauriello.

He suggests there are two routes a municipality can go to try and help solve the problem. If a town insists on having a sign, they can display one which reads, “No un-muffled engine brake use except in an emergency.”

“This will get more to the root of the problem towns and cities are facing,” he explains.

The other alternative Mauriello offered is to go with the example the State of Colorado has set.

“They took the federal (Environmental Protection Agency) law that says all vehicles must have a muffler and adopted it into state law so it is actually enforceable on state highways and local roads. They have actually banned the use of engine brakes without exhaust mufflers.”

Those caught breaking the law are fined $500, and have their rig taken out of service until they comply.

In Canada, Nova Scotia has found its own solution, by banning the use of engine brakes in 50 km-h speed zones.

“We feel it’s useless use of the technology and the fact it may create an unsafe situation depending on the weather conditions,” says Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. The organization supports the province.

“We do not feel it is necessary to ban the use of the brakes absolutely. In the case of an emergency situation, a fellow in a 50 km-h speed zone carrying excessive weight or an extra heavy load; we think should be able to use it.”

For Kelowna, B.C.-native Nelson Schoffenburg, who drives a 2001 Pete with a 435 Cummins for Elke Brothers Transport (based in Langley, B.C.), the use of an engine brake is only necessary on major hills.

“Some towns, you have to come down a hill to get into the community. You should be able to use the engine brake until you get to the bottom of the hill,” explains Schoffenburg, who has been driving truck for 27 years and averages more 12,000 miles per month. “It’s there to assist in braking when you are on a hill. But once you get into the community, you shouldn’t be using it.”

He explains most towns have a speed limit of 50 km-h and, “You don’t need an engine brake doing 50.”

Mauriello says a lot of the problem has to do with old habits dying hard.

“If you go way back in the history of trucking before there were turbo chargers on the engine, mufflers use to change the back pressure of the engine to the point where it would actually take away from fuel economy and from power. So in the old days they use to remove the mufflers and put in a straight pipe to compensate for the fact that there was no turbo on the engine.”

Today, Mauriello says, people still remove the integral part, not knowing their rig will become a whole lot louder without gaining horse-power or fuel economy.

Peel Region doesn’t want to see the problem continue and according to Sean Ballaro, supervisor of traffic operations, it might move the 50 km-h sign 400 metres from the intersection of Queen St. and Mississauga Rd. As it stands, the sign is much closer to the lights.

“Instead of us having a speed limit change right on the hill, that will move it back onto flat ground.”

For Piccolotto, the whole experience has soured him on the industry.

“They are a very unsafe operation,” he complains. “I’m not so sure a lot of these truck drivers would like to be stopped by the police.” n

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