SPECIAL REPORT: Colorado town’s engine brake law moves forward

| 10/31/2003

Officials in Vail, CO, have moved one step closer to adopting an ordinance that would fine truck drivers up to $999 for using engine-compression braking systems within town limits, according to local media.

The Vail Town Council voted 4-3 in favor of the ordinance Oct. 21.

Council members who supported the proposed ordinance said at the meeting the action “sends a message” to the trucking industry “the town is serious” about reducing traffic noise, the Vail Daily reported.

According to council meeting notes, council member Greg Moffet, who backs the fines, said too much time has 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. "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 voted 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 by the council on second reading Nov. 18, 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 appeared 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 truly must engage their engine brakes as careless.

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

Diana Donovan, who with fellow council members Dick Cleveland and Bill Jewitt voted 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.