John Putnam opposes Jake brake ordinance

John Putnam of Sutherland speaks to the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 14, about a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the use of engine and compression brakes within one mile of incorporated communities. Putnam opposed the ordinance and suggested the board instead consider a noise ordinance that would not single out engine brakes truck drivers use.

PRIMGHAR—Sutherland resident John Putnam urged the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors to hit the brakes on a proposed ordinance he thinks would single out truck drivers should it be approved.

During the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, Putnam argued against a proposed ordinance that would “prohibit the excessive, loud, unusual or explosive use of engine and compressed air-braking devices” within a one-mile radius of incorporated municipalities in the county.

“Your problem isn’t with the Jake brake, it’s with the aftermarket exhaust these guys are putting on,” Putnam said. “Every truck I drove for 30 years has a Jake brake. I could go through town, turn it on, nobody even knew it was on.”

He said such aftermarket exhaust pipes are wider than the standard 5-inch ones and therefore create the louder popping sound that is the basis for complaints against Jake brakes.

Putnam also argued the proposed Jake brake ordinance would not hold up in court because of the safety issues that could arise if truckers were not able to use the brake in an emergency situation.

Instead of a Jake brake ordinance, Putnam suggested the board consider a noise ordinance.

“Then you can cover loud cars, loud pickups, loud motorcycles and loud trucks,” Putnam said. “Make it a noise ordinance, don’t single out the trucks. Don’t even put Jake brake in there.”

He also pointed out the trucking industry is one of the largest employers in the county.

Board member Dan Friedrichsen acknowledged that to be true but said the intent of the ordinance would be to encourage drivers to be respectful of nearby residents when they drive past their homes.

Friedrichsen also said the resident who originally brought up the engine noise complaint to the supervisors admitted an ordinance would not necessarily stop all instances of loud vehicle noises.

“If you have the proper muffled exhaust system and are using your Jake brake through that area, you’re not going to get a ticket,” Friedrichsen said.

Putnam responded by saying Friedrichsen could not guarantee that would be the case because the ordinance would be up to interpretation of individual police officers.

Friedrichsen said no tickets for Jake brake use have been issued in the county and said an ordinance may prevent future complaints about Jake brakes since fewer people would use the brakes coming into towns.

“It’s a visual that reminds them, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do it,’” Friedrichsen said.

Board member Sherri Bootsma said she has received feedback similar to Putnam’s from other county residents who would prefer the supervisors pursue a noise ordinance.

Board member Nancy McDowell asked county attorney Rachael Becker, who attended the meeting, if the supervisors would have to hold another hearing if they change the language of the ordinance to reflect a noise-focused intent.

Becker said if they changed the language, it would change the ordinance itself and the board would need to start over with a different ordinance process. She also pointed out other considerations that would come with a noise ordinance.

“Do you list out everything that’s considered a noise ordinance violation or do you use a decibel meter reader? How are we really going to ever be at the right place at the right time to get that decibel reading?” she said.

Becker said Jake brake ordinances are written the way they are to be able to focus more specifically on noises created by the loud engine brakes. However, she said she likes the language on signs that say “vehicle noise laws enforced” because it is general and does not single out Jake brakes but still is specific to vehicle noises only.

Bootsma suggested the board put forward the question of whether or not to change the proposed Jake brake ordinance to a noise ordinance during its hearing Tuesday, July 21, on the matter. Friedrichsen agreed with that.