“No Engine Braking” Signs in Austin

First of all… I understand that these signs are intended for semi tractors and not passenger vehicles.  However, the city ordinance (Austin, Texas City Ordinances) Title Twelve Article 3 12-1-33 indeed does not state that this is for large trucks and not passenger vehicles.

§ 12-1-33  USE OF ENGINE BRAKE OR RETARDER PROHIBITED.

(A)     This section applies to a roadway or street within the corporate limits of the City, including a state maintained roadway.

(B)     A person may not use an engine brake or engine retarder to assist in slowing or braking a motor vehicle, except for a fire truck engaged in emergency duties.

Now, this is very interesting (or ridiculously stupid depending on who you talk to).  Austin, could (theoretically) mail a fine to every vehicle owner every month forever.  Why?  Because every vehicle and driver engine brakes every day.

By definition, if you are slowing down, without the clutch of a manual transmission car being engaged or an automatic transmission vehicle in neutral, then you are engine braking.

Have you ever taken your foot off the gas slightly to slow down?  Not even all the way off, just let up a little?  That’s engine braking.  You are using some of the power of your engine to slow the vehicle instead of accelerating or maintaining speed.

Now, will this law ever get enforced against a passenger vehicle?  Of course not.  If the police are pulling you over, then they have something bigger than engine braking on you.

On the other hand, it seems really stupid to create a law that every driver will break every day.  It just makes the rest of the laws look weak.  “Oh well, they can’t enforce this law, what else won’t they enforce?”

One of the first things I learned as a teacher (and put to use as a parent) is never say you’ll do something that you won’t do.  If you say it, you’d better do it.  Otherwise, the rest of your school year (or life) will be miserable.  Don’t threaten with anything outside your ability to do.  If you say that you’re going to spank, then you better freaking spank or your kid will walk all over you and not understand why you enforce some rules and not others.  Then you have the constant battle of the kid trying to find out which rules you’ll enforce.

The same goes for law-makers, especially at the city and county level.  This law is really for heavy trucks (ten wheel and above).  Change the law to read that and amend the signs to say that.  It just looks stupid to anyone who understands anything about cars… and especially those loud ass motorcycles that are way louder than engine braking trucks.  The police don’t do anything about them.

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~ by OgreMkV on April 5, 2010.

9 Responses to ““No Engine Braking” Signs in Austin”

  1. Now let’s not get our knickers in a twist! The terms “engine brake” and “engine retarder” refer to a (usually noisy) device in a diesel engine that increases it’s engine braking power, NOT the natural braking that you get by lifting your right foot.

  2. An engine retarder is one thing (which is what they generally mean when they say ‘no engine braking’).

    However “engine braking” is using the engine to slow the car… in the strictest sense of the term.

    Without being specific, the law can, technically, refer to any form of engine braking. In fact, the wording of the law says engine braking OR engine retarder as though they are two separate systems.

    I agree with you that is what the law meant to say, however it does not say that. The implication is that the law applies to any form of slowing a motor vehicle by using the engine.

  3. I don’t expect an answer but if I do get one I’ll tell you I appreciate it in advance!

    Hopefully someone can help or give me insight on help for no one here can because I live on a county seat and not dirrectly in a town.

    The problem is 8 out of 10 trucks either engine braking (or jake breaking) coming down from a hill or in a hurry to cross the busy intersection thus producing this noisy irratible sound. The highway dept will not put up those commonly seen “No Engine Braking” signs as this intersection is not entering any actual town.

    Again, any input would be appreciated for there are two particular trucks (a green one and also one red) that keep me up all day (work 3rd shift) and they are hideous, probably the same driver as these trucks run back and worth 20-25 times a day past my property.

    Pulling my hair out for a solution other than moving!

    Best Regards,
    Don

  4. I don’t expect an answer but if I do get one I’ll tell you I appreciate it in advance!

    Hopefully someone can help or give me insight on help for no one here can because I live on a county seat and not dirrectly in a town.

    The problem is 8 out of 10 trucks either engine braking (or jake breaking) coming down from a hill or in a hurry to cross the busy intersection thus producing this noisy irratible sound. The highway dept will not put up those commonly seen “No Engine Braking” signs as this intersection is not entering any actual town.

    Again, any input would be appreciated for there are two particular trucks (a green one and also one red) that keep me up all day (work 3rd shift) and they are hideous, probably the same driver as these trucks run back and worth 20-25 times a day past my property.

    Pulling my hair out for a solution other than moving!

    Best Regards,
    Don

  5. The phrase “an engine brake” clearly refers to a kind of brake (noun), not a kind of braking (verb). This applies only to diesel vehicles. Because diesel vehicles do not maintain a throttle vacuum, they often have a second braking system installed to simulate engine braking and enhance the life of the normal brakes. This system, which is not a true form of engine braking, is literally called “an engine brake”. There’s nothing unclear about the ordinance, as “an engine brake” means the replacement system for engine braking in a diesel vehicle (not “engine braking” in general).

    The specific type of brake they are targeting is called a compression brake. Compression brakes are banned in most municipalities, and they are not often installed as a result (at least, not without mufflers). An unshielded compression-only brake system sounds like an assault weapon going off.

    One might quibble that, by the ordinance banning all engine brakes, it effectively bans exhaust brakes (quiet) as well as compression brakes (loud). Banning only compression brakes (and possibly extending the ban to compression-exhaust hybrid brakes, which are quieter but still somewhat loud) would seem to be wiser than banning all engine brakes. Additionally, some companies use expensive mufflers to quiet compression brakes or compression-exhaust hybrid brakes, and these are clearly not as bad. So if they needed to get hyper-specific, “compression brakes of greater than 100 dB at ten meters” (or some other metric) might be a “fairer” estimate. But this is probably a bad idea. It’s hard to enforce, and presumably, they will only fine someone if they use an engine brake that is loud. Simply banning all use of engine brakes (which, again, do not refer to the true “engine braking” phenomenon you describe) in residential areas, when engine brakes are not needed for city driving (though they do extend the life of the vehicle’s brakes), is a sensible approach. You would only be caught and fined if you made enough noise to be caught, although I suppose they could see an exhaust brake in use and pull you over and fine you if they decide to be dicks.

  6. I appreciate your willingness to chime in here with a response, and I do accept your explanation as an attempt to offer clarification. But I have to disagree with you. Yes, the intent of the law is relatively clear. No, the wording of the law is not clear, regardless of its intent, and regardless of your individual understanding of what is says.

    The phrase, “an engine brake,” does not “clearly refer” to a kind of brake (noun), and not a kind of braking. I can just as easily refer to the well-known kind of engine braking that all engines do, as using an engine brake to slow my car. It is synonymous in this instance with saying that I use an engine braking maneuver to slow my car. Language usage norms will not be the saving grace of a very poorly worded–perhaps even stupidly worded–law. So I would have to say that your statement, “there’s nothing unclear about the ordinance,” is foolish over-simplification of the facts. Your own statements that follow this over-simplification give adequate proof that the law is meaninglessly worded, rather than appropriate and meaningful.

    The proliferation of multiple kinds of engine braking, and of multiple kinds of engine braking mechanisms, does not excuse a law from being explicit about what it does and does not restrict. Any law that can easily be abused to arrest citizens for violations other than what the law intends to limit, is a travesty and something to be laughed at, and ultimately changed for the betterment of both the wellbeing of the citizenry and law enforcement.

    Passing laughable laws is one of the surest ways to minimize respect for the law.

  7. The example used earlier of a motorcycle is a very good one, as it is frequently extremely unsafe to NOT use engine braking when riding a motorcycle. One’s very survival many times can depend on being in the right gear at the right time, when acceleration is needed. down-shifting, which usually does involve at least some engine braking, is the way you do that.

  8. Whenever you see legal statements on a sign, you have to keep in mind that messages are brief and to the point, due to limited space of a sign and the cost of producing a sign.

    For instance, you see a speed limit sign that states “SPEED LIMIT XX” lacks additional information such as MPH/kPH. This is to keep the information as brief as possible. The motor vehicle code book for each state and municipality (and the federal DOT motor vehicle code) provides full detail of each and every law.

    Another example would be a NO TURN ON RED sign. This does not indicate that without such sign a left turn on red is legal as left turn on red on all two-way roadways are illegal. Federal law only permits right turn on red or left turn on red from a ONE-WAY to a ONE-WAY. Adding the word RIGHT to make the sign say “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED” would make the statement lengthy and would add another line to the sign (a waste of aluminum and ink).

    Drive near a school and you will notice a SPEED LIMIT XX sign (usually 10 mph slower than the standard speed limit) with the word SCHOOL on top in bright neon yellow (or orange if the sign is more than ten years old). The bottom reads “ON SCHOOL DAYS WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT.” Motor vehicle code states when such sign is present, the slower school speed limit is in effect on school days (as determined by the board of education), between the hours of 7AM–4PM, when children are present. These three factors must be met in order for the slower speed limit to be enforceable. If children are present around the school at 4:45 PM, the school speed limit does not apply since it’s outside the 7-4 range. If children are present near the school on Saturday or on a day the school calender lists as a no school day (usually a holiday) the slower speed limit does not apply since it is not a school day. If school is in session and all the children are in the classroom, the slower speed limit does not apply since children are confined to a safe area inside a facility.

    The engine brake sign is the same case. You cannot base the engine braking law based on a brief message posted on a sign. If you read the law in a motor vehicle code book, The words “Engine Brake”, Compression Brake”, or other similar variety of words used on such signs will be defined at the beginning of each chapter and will make clear that such words are referring to a braking system found in commercial or heavy vehicles (also known as a “Jake Brake”). Most communities ban jake brake use (except in an emergency) because they creates a loud, obnoxious noise that most residents do not want to hear. Using a car engine as a brake via a low transmission gear is not a concern to other people because they cannot hear your engine revving at higher RPM’s for such braking (unless you are lacking a standard muffler).

    If you visit the posted website below for the city of Grandview, TX, the link will display a PDF version of an adopted law prohibiting engine braking and defines engine braking (scroll to page 4 for the definition). Other municipal laws use the same or similar definition.

    http://grandview.yourdoc.caveconsulting.com/citysearch/documents/ordinances%5Cgrandview_ordinances_2006_0706.pdf

  9. engine breaking is not just for commercial vehicles. If you ever driven a manual transmission car, you would know what engine breaking is and how it applies to any car.

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