Hopewell Boro residents appeared before the Boro Council at last night’s Council meeting to express distress about the excessive truck braking noise in the Boro, particularly along Broad Street. Hopewell Boro is located in a literal cross-roads between several rock and asphalt industrial facilities and partially along a major Mercer County thoroughfare (Rt. 518).
Patrick Todd, Boro resident who lives on West Broad Street, made a thorough presentation before the Council and members of public in attendance. Todd explained that his wife had been placing their daughter into her carseat in their driveway when a truck passed using its engine brake to slow. The vehicle emitted a sound so loud that his wife has had her hearing affected for a month. In an effort to discover whether there was any legal action that could be taken to prevent further occurrences of excessively loud braking, Todd contacted Boro hall and discovered that there are no enforceable ordinances in place against the loud ‘engine braking’ that they heard.
Such braking is known as “compression release engine braking” or “Jake brakes,” after the manufacturer Jacobs and is a braking mechanism on diesel engines that releases compressed air trapped in cylinders to slow the vehicle. It is a safety component in trucks that causes the vehicle to make a loud machine-gun like noise especially when the vehicle is improperly calibrated to muffle the sound. According to Todd, the decibel difference between a properly and improperly calibrated vehicle is 20 decibels, which registers to a human ear as being 4 times louder.
Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney and Lieutenant Christopher Kascik attend the meeting and explained that they are somewhat limited in this arena for a variety of reasons. The current Hopewell Borough ordinance does not prevent loud braking nor, in their experience, could an ordinance effectively allow police to prevent such braking. Hopewell Township previously had enacted an ordinance against “Jake brakes” but was instructed by the State that it was unenforceable so local police are unable to enforce it.
Council discussed Title 39 of New Jersey Department of Transportation Traffic Regulations (N.J.S.A. 39:3-70) as being a possible means to reduce noise offenders. The pertinent part of the Title 39 provides, “Every motor vechile having a combustion motor shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise…” Chief Maloney and Lieutenant Kascik explained that local police have no power to inspect commercial vehicles so the issue of whether there is a functional muffler falls within the jurisdiction of the State Police. The penalty for violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-70 is $54 and, because it is a non-moving violation, yields no point penalties on one’s license.
According to Maloney, any decibel measuring and emissions are the responsibility of the Health Department. Even if a commercial vehicle is not in compliance with inspections, local police must contact State Police for enforcement. (As reported in this Trenton Times article, nearby Ewing Township has purchased and trained officers on the use of the decibel meters required to enforce their noise ordinances. A link to the NJ DEP’s model noise ordinance is available here for further information on the State requirements for enforcement).
One Boro resident suggested a reduced speed limit to reduce braking volume (West Broad Street on the West side of Louellen Street is still 30 mph speed limit). Based on Todd’s observations and discussions with other Hopewell Boro residents, the engine braking noise is most acute at entrances to the Boro. Feedback from Council and Township Police Department representatives indicated that it was unclear whether a overall reduced speed would reduce the volume of braking. The speed limit on eastern sections of West and East Broad Street have recently been reduced to 25 mph and flashing speed limit signs will be installed within a month. Mayor Paul Anzano expressed that it will take time to measure the cumulative effects of these efforts to assess whether the Council needs to take further actions to reduce the speed limit for additional sections of the Boro.
Anzano stated, “I don’t think the solution lies here but lies beyond us to see if there is a statewide solution” and urged Township Police Chief Maloney to bring the issue before higher authorities.