Dexter Council Mulls Over Engine Compression Braking Ordinance Amidst Noise Concerns


Roundabout at Baker and Shield roads. Photo by Doug Marrin.

Dexter City Council discussed a possible ordinance against engine compression braking (aka “Jake Brakes”) in the city limits. Using such brakes often creates the loud, staccato noise of large trucks slowing down.

The matter came to the council’s attention via an email to Councilmember Wa Hubbard. The email states in part, “…while the roundabouts have largely calmed the traffic congestion at Shield and Dan Hoey Roads, they have created a new, quite obnoxious problem. Large semi trailer trucks come up Baker Road heading north at high speed and then encounter the south roundabout and have to slam on their air brakes to keep from blowing through it. The noise of their brakes is incredibly loud and literally shakes our house. This happens nearly every day.”

City staff presented a draft ordinance prohibiting the use of air compression brakes to the city council.

During the discussion, Councilmember Michels pointed out that the two roads mentioned in the email complaint are actually under Scio Township jurisdiction and encouraged staff to communicate that to the senders.

The council’s discussion revolved mainly around the question of whether the current noise ordinance already addresses the issue. “We already have a noise ordinance, and so I question how this will be different,” said Michels. “The main thing is not the technology, but whether or not the muffler system is in good repair.”

Engine compression brakes, often referred to as "Jake Brakes," are a type of engine brake used primarily in large diesel engines, like those in heavy trucks. They use the engine's compression phase and the release of compressed air within its cylinders to create a braking force.

The engine compression brake is a separate, additional mechanical system integrated into the engine. The term "Jake Brake" comes explicitly from the Jacobs brand, one of the first to popularize this type of brake.

DAFD Fire Chief Doug Armstrong was asked to comment on the impact of such an ordinance on emergency vehicles.

“The exhaust brakes that we use on the fire trucks are critical to the safety of the of the braking of the vehicle and are something that we don't really ever turn off unless it's really icy weather out,” replied Armstrong. “To have something where we had to remember to turn it off in a certain place or on in another place would be really problematic.”

“Our mufflers are in full compliance and designed to work with the braking systems such as to minimize that noise,” he added. “We've never gotten any feedback from anyone that our trucks are a cause of concern from a noise standpoint.”

This past summer, Chelsea adopted an ordinance banning the use of air compression brakes. Dexter’s council leaned in a different direction, with some suggesting the braking system itself is not the issue but the maintenance thereof.

The council took no action on the draft ordinance but directed city staff to look at the noise ordinance more comprehensively, determine if that ordinance section needed updates, and see if it would be appropriate for the compression braking issue to be addressed under that ordinance, rather than creating a separate ordinance for it.

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