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Council narrowly votes to oppose engine brake ordinance

June 20, 2012

In a 4-3 vote, members of St. Marys City Council opposed publishing a revised version of the city's engine brake ordinance.
Earlier this month, council opposed the publication of a previous ordinance on the subject, during which time they voted to revise the ordinance by establishing that engine brakes could not be utilized on roads designated with a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit or less.
During their Monday evening meeting, council members Dan Hepner, Greg Gebauer, Dick Dornisch and Mayor Sally Geyer cast a no vote in publishing the new ordinance, while council members Ned Jacob, Gary Anderson and Bob Roberts voted in favor of it.
The ordinance states "operation of engine brakes on motor vehicles which are not properly equipped with exhaust mufflers or are equipped with defective or modified exhaust muffles, creates excessive noise and adversely effects the public health, safety and welfare by creating nuisances in fact."
It also states engine brakes are "not to be used on any street, road, alley or highway within the city to have a maximum speed limit of 35 mph or less. This section shall not apply to emergency driving situations requiring utilization of an engine brake. In addition, violators may be sentenced to a fine of not more than $500 and in default of fine, payment be subject to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 90 days."
In discussing the ordinance, Hepner said he spoke to a former trucking company owner who explained that the primary reason there is so much noise with jake brakes on trucks is primarily because they are not hooked up correctly.
"Those that are hooked up correctly, you don't hear that noise. It's someone trying to do a shortcut," Hepner said.
In an attempt to research the topic as best he could since the last meeting, Gebauer said he spoke with several local trucking companies who informed him that a jake brake is a very essential part of a braking device on a large rig, especially if they are fully loaded.
Gebauer referenced information from a Commercial Driving License (CDL) manual, which he said describes when drivers should utilize jake brakes, reasons for using them, proper ways of braking and braking capabilities. Gebauer quoted from the manual how main brakes "can fade or fail from excessive heat by using them too much and not relying on the engine braking affect."
"There's no question in my mind it's a safety device put on a vehicle. This is something people are taught, to utilize the engine (jake) brake," Gebauer said. "I do understand the issue of the noise but we have noise of motorcycles running through town cracking their pipes and that is solely just to hear themselves, versus a trucker who has a legitimate jake brake with the proper muffling on it. I can't support that, it's a safety device."
As a member of Crystal Fire Department, Gebauer said he operates some of the fire trucks and utilizes their jake brakes, particularly when descending steep hills. He said although it may not be necessary to utilize a jake brake traveling through town on flat roads, it is often necessary to use the jake brake when driving down hills on roads like S. Michael Street, Brusselles Street, Zwack's Dip (corner of Route 255 (Million Dollar Highway) and West Theresia Rd.), and down through the hills on South St. Marys Street.
Gebauer added he would not have a problem limiting the ordinance to fining improperly muffled trucks, but said he doesn't see how this is possible, as the ordinance states all vehicles.
He proposed several possibilities, including designating a time limit on jake brakes' use from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Gebauer explained during these quiet hours, when traffic lights are flashing yellow, there is very little traffic and less chance that trucks would have to perform a sudden, abrupt braking maneuver.
"We can word it (the ordinance) so it's not affecting the average truck, but that puts a burden on police, who are not trained mechanics and don't have the ability to determine whether a truck is properly or improperly muffled in order to issue a fine," Gebauer said.
Dornisch called the ordinance "redundant," stating he refuses to vote for it because such violations should be covered under the city's noise and nuisance laws. He said any driver can claim they are using their jake brakes for emergency reasons.
"It's these basically mundane annoyances we cannot be spending all this huge amount of time on. We're not going to get rid of all the noises and not everybody's going to be happy about the church bells playing, etc. You're kind of going beyond those things," Dornisch said. "I think we spend way too much time wasting on a small number of people making mediocre complaints about basically things that are annoying rather than real problems for the citizens of St. Marys."
Dornisch emphasized his major concern lies with people or business owners telling council how to conduct business.
"It's somebody else telling us, in our municipality, what our fines have to be on our statutes. Who are these people interfering in our right to govern?" Dornisch said. "This is our town, we set the fines, not somebody else. I stand totally opposed to this whole concept."
Geyer added she disapproves of the fine and penalty associated with the violation. She noted a $100 fine is more appropriate for the violation.
Solicitor Tom Wagner stated if a repeat offender goes before the District Judge having been cited previously for jake brake offenses, yet does not change their ways, perhaps a $500 fine is an appropriate penalty because they have not been responding to the smaller fines.

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