Give Me A Brake, Jake
There are many famous “Jakes” in this beautiful country. From all-star pitcher Jake Arrieta in the sports world, to Jake Gyllenhaal in Hollywood, to White House correspondent and political figure Jake Tapper. But in the trucking industry, the most famous Jake of all has no last name, but he does leave a harmonic signature. You can gaze your eyes in every direction and never see him, but tune your ears upon the sunset, and you can hear him from miles away…
As you no doubt have guessed, we are talking about the “jake brake”. The jake brake, or Jacobs Brake is a proprietary name that utilizes the basic technology known as engine braking. While the term jake brake properly refers to the Jacobs brand of engine brakes, the term jake brake itself has become a generic trademark for engine brakes. The article this week will talk about the engine brake, what it does, why it’s so important and why truckers may want to look both ways before flipping that switch.
Compression release engine braking has been around almost as long as the modern truck engine itself. It was originally patented by Clessie Cummins in 1962. When activated, it opens exhaust valves in the diesel engine cylinders after the compression cycle. Compressed air is released in the cylinders and in turn begins to slow down the vehicle. A very handy thing to have to assist in the braking of the truck while preserving precious air within the actual braking system.
Engine braking systems play a pivotal role in the safe operation of a commercial motor vehicle. The engine brake turns a power producing engine into a power absorbing air compressor and in turn causes the truck to slow down without the use of the service brakes. The driver can also manipulate the engine brake to use as little or as much as they feel is necessary to assist in braking. But like all things in the trucking industry, the engine brake is subject to legislation and restriction.
Although the use of the system is restricted in certain circumstances, it is not illegal. This has been a common misconception in the trucking and law enforcement community almost as long as the system has been operational. An educated truck officer will understand the importance of the engine brake, and an experienced trucker will understand that while loaded or traversing a downgrade, safe operation of the truck cannot be achieved without it. Not only does the engine brake support a safer operation, but it also provides financial relief to trucking companies. Service brakes can cost thousands of dollars to replace and will wear out quicker without engine braking.
Legislation applied to engine braking is mostly on a local level. In the past, many signs would have read “No Jake Brakes” or “Engine Braking Prohibited”, but Illinois law specifically reads:
(625 ILCS 5/12-602.1)
(a) A county or municipality may post signs that prohibit the driver of a commercial vehicle from actuating any engine braking system that emits excessive noise.]
(b) The sign shall state, “EXCESSIVE ENGINE BRAKING NOISE PROHIBITED”.
(c) This Section does not apply to the use of an engine braking system that has an adequate sound muffling system in proper working order that prevents excessive noise.
While traveling in Illinois, the proper sign will read what is displayed above. The only confusion lies in the word “excessive”. A truck driver’s definition of excessive noise may be different than the opinion of the law enforcement officer charged with enforcing this law. One solution to this problem is modern technology. There are countless companies who manufacture ‘quiet engine brakes’ or ‘D-Celerators.’ Also, the noise of your engine brake is proportionate to the size of your exhaust pipes.
Truckers – There is no law against the use of engine braking unless it’s posted otherwise. However, are you in a residential area? Are you using that engine brake for a practical reason or just to draw attention to yourself? These are things you should consider before flipping that switch.
Police Officers – Does your jurisdiction have an ordinance prohibiting the use of excessive engine braking noise you plan to enforce? If yes, make sure the proper signs are posted in the proper areas before taking enforcement action. And remember education through enforcement can be more valuable than citations.