Braking news in Wisconsin

| 9/19/2002

Some Wisconsin communities are trying to stop truckers from using their engine brakes, drawing loud protests from a braking system manufacturer that thinks its products are being unfairly targeted. Signs around town now say, "Engine braking illegal except in emergency."

The state Department of Transportation's southeastern district got involved after noise complaints led some communities to put up signs saying, "No Jake Brakes."

Those communities received letters from Jacobs Vehicle Systems lawyers complaining that they were infringing on the company's trademark, said Frank Stawski, manager of legal affairs for Jacobs. Once contacted, the communities all backed down without lawsuits, Stawski noted.

According to a published report, to deal with both the noise complaints and the legal issues, the state came up with a policy that allows communities with anti-noise ordinances to put up signs. Menomonee Falls, Lannon, Pewaukee and Watertown are the latest area communities to use the policy. Local governments must pay for the signs and enforce the ban, Craft said.

Jacobs can't do anything about the signs in their new form, Stawski explained. But Jacobs doesn't believe its products are the real problem, he added. The loud distinctive sound of engine brakes is magnified when a truck is running with a faulty muffler or no muffler at all, Stawski said.

State laws require trucks to have working mufflers, and responsible trucking companies and drivers support those laws, said Stawski. He urged Wisconsin and other states to follow the lead of Colorado, which levies a $500 fine for the first offense of driving without a working muffler.