City brakes ordinance against truck ‘jakes’

Action to muffle noise from Interstate 84 is tabled by council

The City of Hood River has put the brakes on action to stop noisy trucks on Interstate 84 from disturbing residents.

On Monday the City Council tabled the decision on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit vehicles from using “jake” brakes that exceeded 80 decibels in volume. Councilor Chuck Haynie asked for the delay so staff could further research two legal questions:

Whether the city could pass an ordinance that was more restrictive than the state standard of 90 decibels without violating interstate commerce protection.

If the city could enforce the code at the city’s western border until the current legal challenge over annexation had been resolved.

After hearing Police Chief Tony Dirks’ concerns about costs and use of manpower to enforce the code, they also debated whether the ordinance could be practically applied to effect noticeable change.

Dirks told the council on Nov. 25 that the engine brakes were used as a safety feature to increase compression in selected cylinders that slowed down the drive shaft, allowing the vehicle to reduce speed without unnecessarily heating the conventional brakes. After researching the issue, he said that while numerous municipalities had statutes prohibiting the use of jake brakes, he could find no agency in Oregon which was enforcing this type of ordinance. He said this could be, in part, because without specialized training it would be very difficult for officers to distinguish between regular down shifting and a faulty muffler or braking system.

Although Councilor Andrea Klaas and five other residents have registered complaints with Dirks about the noise from passing trucks, he and Lynn Guenther, city manager, performed a study that found that the average braking volumes from freeway truck traffic did not exceed state standards. The two officials recently used a decibel meter at various locations within the city limits to get readings on 96 trucks and the highest output was 80 decibels.

“The thought that a big percentage of trucks are in violation of state law is just not true,” said Dirks.

However, Klaas reiterated that her family lives more than 500 feet from the freeway and, like many other residents, have been awakened at night by the noise from passing trucks.

“This is an issue that affects many, many communities and not just ours so we can be the forerunners here,” she said.

Three citizens agreed with Klaas and testified about the problem at the Monday meeting, including Eric Skemp, who owns Hifly North America next to I-84.

“At least once a day we have to stop talking on the telephone or in person,” said Skemp about the volume from engine brakes in his business office.

The council suggested, and Dirks agreed, that there might be an efficient way to enforce the proposed noise ordinance without undue cost or manpower. They discussed conducting a “sting” operation several times a year that would include the Oregon State Patrol, who had authority to conduct a safety search of trucks that were pulled over for noise violations.

That methodology would determine if the brakes were legally muffled and spread the word that Hood River was taking strong action against unnecessary noise.

In addition, Guenther and Mayor Paul Cummings suggested that letters be sent to major trucking companies with violations that signalled the city’s intent to stop the problem.

“I think we have the beginnings of some good ideas that might be effective and not cost us a fortune,” said Councilor Paul Thompson.

The council will further discuss the legal and enforcement issues related to the proposed vehicular noise ordinance at its Dec. 9 meeting.

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