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Counties That Have A 'Jake Braking' Ordinance Say It's Hard To Enforce

Amanda Bengtson/Flickr
Under Woodbury County's proposed ordinance, the use of a "Jake brake" would be prohibited in several areas of the county.

Woodbury County supervisors are considering an ordinance that would prohibit trucks from using loud compression brakes on some county roads, but other western Iowa counties that have a similar ordinance in place say it’s difficult to enforce.

Woodbury County Engineering says some residents have complained about the noise from trucks applying loud compression brakes called “Jake brakes." But County Sheriff Dave Drew took to social media last week to call the proposed ordinance “unenforceable.”

“Oh please! Who is enforcing an unenforceable ordinance? What will determine writing the citation, because we hear a jake brake! I'm throwing the flag on that one! Least of our worries!” Drew tweeted, in response to a Sioux City Journal article on the first reading of the proposed ordinance.

"Jake brakes" are standard equipment for most heavy duty trucks and tractor trailers, said Jeff Ellerbrock, who owns Ellerbrock Trucking in Sac County. Truck drivers push a switch on the dash to apply the engine brakes.

Ellerbrock says trucks often use them to slow down if they’re going down a long hill, but these devices can be very loud.

“If you are in one of the downtown businesses and a truck with a very loud Jake brake system comes down that hill and engages that Jake brake, it’s literally impossible for a business person to talk to his customers as that truck is going down the hill,” he said.

Northwest Iowa’s Sac County and Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa have similar ordinances to the one Woodbury County is looking to pass. Sac County has had one for three years. Sheriff Ken McClure says it’s not unenforceable, but it’s hard for his small staff to be there when a “Jake brake” is used.

“We have 640 square miles that we’re responsible for. And at most I have two cars out,” McClure said, “so being in the right place at the right time is the issue.”

County police have never cited anyone for using a “Jake brake”, to McClure’s knowledge. He said another issue with the ordinance is that if a group of trucks goes by and a resident hears one of them brake really loudly, it can be difficult for them to determine which truck was using its compression brakes.

McClure said his office typically receives complaints in the spring and summer months when more people sleep with their windows open and are woken up by a “Jake brake” in the early morning.

“In my opinion, I understand the rub. I live on a county blacktop north of Sac City. I get woke up in the early morning hours because of Jake brakes, so I know what it feels like,” McClure said. “But it’s really difficult to enforce.” 

Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker says though his county has heard "Jake braking"-related concerns from residents, he doesn't recall a time when an officer has issued a penalty. The county plans to put up more signs in the area where the ordinance applies on a portion of U.S. Highway 92. 

Under Woodbury County’s proposed ordinance, violators would be subject to a $100 penalty for “Jake braking” along parts of eight roads and highways, including a couple sections of U.S. Highway 20. If the ordinance passes upon its third reading later this month, officials will install signage along these areas to inform people of it.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.