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Houlton police remind community about jake brake ordinance

HOULTON, Maine — During the summer of 2004, town councilors discussed the possibility of quelling the noise of diesel engine brakes — commonly known as jake brakes – so that people working graveyard shifts could sleep peacefully during the day.

At the time, a number of residents had complained that drivers were using the engine brakes during the day, creating loud and unnecessary noise.

Large trucks hauling heavy loads commonly use the brakes. Jake brakes, or the Jacobs Engine Brake, are manufactured by Jacobs Vehicle Systems.

The Jacobs Engine Brake uses the engine to aid in slowing and controlling the vehicle. When activated, the engine brake alters the operation of the engine’s exhaust valves so that the engine works as a power-absorbing air compressor. This provides slowing action to the vehicle’s drive wheels, enabling the driver to have improved vehicle control without using the service brakes, according to the company’s website. The result, however, is a loud audible growling.

Last week, Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca wrote a statement on a social media site reminding residents that an ordinance bans the use of the brakes in some sections of town. He said on Feb. 8 that he addressed the matter with the post simply as a reminder of the ordinance due to concerns raised by residents who work the overnight shift.

“We just want to educate and remind people that this is something to be mindful of for both residents and anyone who works in the trucking industry and works hard to haul products,” he said. “There has to be consideration on the sides of both parties.”

Linda Merritt, who travels as part of her employment, said on Thursday that she has lived in other Maine communities that have such ordinances, including Camden. She said that her residence is on the outskirts of the community. She said that she doesn’t mind the use of the brakes, as long as they are being used appropriately.

“There is a hill nearby that trucks come down, and sometimes, there is noise from these brakes,” she said. “My shifts differ from day to day and I think the noise differs from day to day, probably from the amount of trucks in the community.”

Walter Pierce of Houlton, who drove tractor trailer trucks for 8 years, said that the engine brakes are necessary for safety.

“Especially when you are hauling heavy loads and rolling down a steep hill, you’ll want to use those,” he said.

The current ordinance is the same one that remained untouched in 2004, after councilors decided that the engine brake was a safety device. Currently, the mandate forbids the use of the brakes in some sections of town from 10 p.m. to 6:01 a.m. The edict states that vehicles “heading out of town” on Court and Military streets are not impacted by the ordinance. Motor vehicles on Military Street, “from its intersection with Hillview Avenue easterly to the Airport Drive” and Court Street, “from its southerly intersection with the Old Calais Road” south to the Houlton-Hodgdon town line, are also unaffected by the mandate. Engine brakes are prohibited during the appointed hours in all other areas of town.

DeLuca said that it is illegal to use an engine brake in the town’s compact zone. The ordinance is enforced by the police department, according to Kevin Tingley, the town’s code enforcement officer. Violators could be ticketed, but DeLuca said that is not what he wants to see happen.

He said he is not sure if past police chiefs have ever ticketed anyone under the ordinance.

“We plan to not give out tickets,” he said. “This is really about education and informing people.”

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