SPECIAL REPORT: Colorado town delays engine brake decision

| 11/21/2003

Officials in Vail, CO, delayed a vote Nov. 18 to decide whether to adopt an ordinance that would fine truck drivers up to $999 for using engine-compression braking systems within town limits, including mountainous portions of I-70, according to local media.

The Vail Town Council voted 5-2 to postpone until Dec. 2 any decision on the ordinance.

The delay allows council members more time to collaborate on a proposal brought forward by town manager Stan Zemler that would pursue noise abatement directly via other methods, the Vail Daily reported.

Councilman Greg Moffet, who lives within about 100 feet of the interstate's eastbound lanes, called that plan a "big group hug." According to council meeting notes from Oct. 21, he said too much time had been wasted trying to get the attention of the trucking industry.

"We've neglected to do anything for I don't know how many years, and I sense this effort too is going to go down in flames, and it'll be back to talk therapy," he said recently. "Nobody's ever going to take us seriously because we always fold and commission another study. We don't need no stinkin' study."

Members who have come out against the proposal, however, said discouraging brake use could lead to accidents on the highway. State Trooper Joe Hurt agreed.

"If they've got them, they should be using them," said Hurt, noting that brake failure is one of the main causes of truck accidents.

The ordinance, if adopted as written, would amend the town code, making it unlawful to use a "dynamic braking device" on any motor vehicle on I-70 between East Vail and Dowd Junction "except for the aversion of immediate and imminent danger."

According to the newspaper, Moffet appears so determined to ban the use of such braking systems he even suggested removing the phrase about averting "immediate and imminent danger," calling truckers who must engage their engine brakes careless.

"They've got brakes, right?" he said. "If their brakes are smoking, they're driving carelessly."

Diana Donovan, who with fellow council member Dick Cleveland has come out against the measure, called the ordinance "irresponsible," "immature" and "foolish."

"It's a safety issue," she said. "This is unenforceable, and it accomplishes nothing."

Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, said the council's efforts could cause them future legal headaches if such an ordinance is pushed through.

"You have to love people that live next to major highways because it's convenient, then complain about the traffic and more specifically the trucks that deliver everything they need to allow them to live there," Spencer said.

"Engine brakes have contributed mightily to improved highway safety on mountain grades for truck drivers and others who use the highways. The ordinance is misguided, unneeded and if passed, likely to land the mayor and council members in court."

A state law approved by the Colorado Legislature in 2000 requires big rigs equipped with engine brakes to have a muffler or face a fine of $500 when traveling through the state.

Council members have also pledged to lobby state and federal highway agencies to lower the speed limit through Vail for semis.

--by Keith Goble, staff writer

Keith Goble can be reached at keith_goble@landlinemag.com.