Dillon, CDOT move to reduce noise nuisances caused by ‘Jake brakes’

One of the new noise ordinance signs near the intersection of Highway 6 and W. Anemone Trail in Dillon on Sept. 26, 2019.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

Relief may have finally arrived for Dillon residents upset about truck noise rolling through town at night.

For more than a year now residents in the Dillon Valley have been losing sleep as a result of semi-trucks utilizing “Jake brakes” coming down the hill from Loveland Pass on Highway 6 late at night. CDOT and town officials are hopeful new signage and an educational push toward hauling companies can help make a difference.

A Jake brake, otherwise known as a compression release engine brake, is a diesel engine retarder that uses the engine to aid in slowing and controlling a vehicle, according to Jacobs Vehicle Systems, the technology’s original manufacturer. Once activated, the brake opens the engine’s exhaust valves, which releases the compressed gas trapped inside and slows the vehicle.

For truck drivers, using the Jake brake can help prevent their other brakes from over-heating, reduce service brake maintenance and lead to an overall lower cost of ownership. But for residents along the highway, it unfortunately also means a loud and rapid rumbling, and on occasion, a rude awakening.

“It’s more than just the noise,” said Tim Weiers, who lives just off Highway 6 near the Lord of the Mountains Church in Dillon. “At 11 or 12 at night until three or four in the morning they come down the hill and use their Jake brakes. It rattles the windows. … I’ve gotten up a few times to look through the window wondering what the deal was. You can hear them all the way down the hill. … It’s so loud it’s like a jet is going over your house.”

The town of Dillon is aware of the issue. Kerstin Anderson, the town’s communications director, said the first citizen complaints started coming in last year. Though it has taken some time to put solutions in place.

Of note, Jake braking through town is already restricted under the nuisances article in the town’s municipal code. Given the unpredictable nature of incidents and the Dillon Police Department’s other responsibilities, enforcement hasn’t been a priority in the past.

“We’ve received a few complaints,” said Chief Mark Heminghous of the Dillon Police Department. “But it’s like any other nuisance issue that isn’t consistent. We can’t go sit out on the highway 24/7. It’s really hard to regulate given that our noise ordinance requires a decibel reading. And the nuisance ordinance is enforceable in this case, but it’s something that in the past hasn’t ever been strongly enforced.”

In May, Anderson said the town reached out to CDOT to help address the issue with new signage. At the town’s request, CDOT installed new “Noise Ordinance Enforced” signs in areas around town just last week — including one on eastbound U.S. 6 at the E. Anemone Trail intersection, and westbound near the intersections with Cemetery Road and Evergreen Road.

Weiers said the signage has already begun to make a difference.

“For a couple nights in a row I haven’t heard any Jake brakes,” Weiers said. “It’s been a process with CDOT and Dillon to get that signage put up, but the last couple night I haven’t heard anything so maybe it’s been taken care of.”

But the town is hoping to do a little more to ensure truck drivers are taking note of the new signage. Anderson said the town is set to launch a new educational effort, reaching out to Colorado State Patrol to assist with enforcement and to hauling companies that come through Dillon to let them know not to use their Jake brakes in town. Anderson also said a notice on the restriction has been added to the town’s digital sign on the highway to make sure motorists are aware of the issue.

“I’m hopeful that between the signage and reaching out to the hauling companies it will have some impact,” Anderson said. “The reality is there aren’t enough resources to monitor every single truck that goes through our town limits. We hope it will make an impact, but we’re doing our due diligence to communicate with these entities. Still we recognize it’s a busy state highway.”

Chief Heminghous agreed that education is the best way to curb noise issues in town.

“We need to start with an education process, making contact with those people to educate them from the top down from all the different hauling associations that work with the truckers so that we’re not just out there bombarding folks with a bunch of summons,” Heminghous said.

Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said the issue likely isn’t with Jake brakes at large, but rather with “bad operators” in the area. Fulton noted that by state law any truck with a Jake brake equipped is required to have a muffler, and said with a proper muffler attached Jake brakes shouldn’t be producing a large amount of noise.

Instead, Fulton postulates that the issue stems from drivers who have either removed their muffler — often for aesthetic reasons, or because the driver actually enjoys the sound — or are using a faulty muffler, leading to complaints. He also noted that on occasion residents would misinterpret Jake braking for other loud noises coming from the highway, such as motorcycles.

“We have a lot of companies and many of them have Jake brakes, or compression brakes, and will be using them and you wouldn’t notice,” Fulton said. “This is more of a specific thing. It’s a lack of having a muffler with the engine compression brake.”

Fulton said that he’s hesitant to suggest to any driver not to use a Jake brake if they felt it was needed for safety reasons, particularly in the mountains. Though he did voice a willingness to work with the town on putting an end to noise issues, and actually encouraged fines and strict enforcement for violators of the muffler law.

“Jake brakes are an essential safety feature, particularly in the mountains,” Fulton said. “We do not want to discourage the use of engine compression brakes. We do want to clearly discourage operating a truck with an engine brake and not having a muffler. … We want to be good neighbors. Whenever I hear things like this, I’m happy to work with the city to focus on those problem operators who are clearly not complying, and having those folks brought into compliance.”

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