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'Don't single out truckers'

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Big rigs sometimes make some noise rolling through small towns. But it’s likely more about safety than about showing off.

That’s according to New Castle-based driver Louie Chaplin.

Chaplin has been driving freight for five years. He’s been through just about every town in Henry County and 90 percent of the rest of the country.

The issue of loud semi trucks came up at the recent Sulphur Springs town board meeting.

Council members and town residents complained that truck drivers are using their engine compression brakes early in the morning, which could be violating the town noise ordinance.

Chaplin explained the noise is coming from a braking system called the engine retarder. A popular brand name is the Jacob’s Brake, so some folks have taken to calling all engine retarders “Jake brakes” for short.

“Why would a town want to take a safety feature off a semi? That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

The engine retarder redirects engine power to compress air inside the cylinders, rather than going to the drive train and wheels, Chaplin said.

“It’s a braking system,” Chaplin said. “It’s 2018. Everybody has some kind of engine retarder.”

Chaplin acknowledged some owner-operators might customize their rigs to be loud when they engage the Jake brake. He likened it to teenagers cutting the exhaust off their tricked-out cars or trucks.

“But the local guys probably aren’t the ones doing that, because they travel through the same small towns all the time,” Chaplin said.

Chaplin said this form of braking slows the rig down without locking up the wheels or jarring the cargo in the trailer.

He compared it to downshifting in a manual transmission car as a way to quickly slow down without losing control of the car.

This means engine retarders are some of the safest braking systems for trucks hauling livestock or bulk liquids.

Chaplin used the example of a driver with a load of cattle driving down the road. If that driver had to stop suddenly and slammed on his brake pedal, the truck’s tires would be trying to stop the whole load.

It’d be just like slamming on the brakes in a passenger vehicle.

Instead of being stopped by a seat belt, though, the cattle in the trailer would all smash into each other at highway speed. That equals broken bones and dead cows, Chaplin said.

With bulk liquids, whether it’s milk or fuel, a sudden stop could cause the load to slosh around dangerously. This might only damage the material itself, or it could jackknife the truck.

Trucks carrying long steel also depend on engine retarders so a sudden stop doesn’t damage the pipes or girders they are hauling, Chaplin said.

Chaplin thinks the uptick in loud braking might have something to do with the town’s new LED speed limit signs.

But not for the reasons some people might think.

From Chaplin’s perspective behind the wheel, passenger cars and trucks are much more likely than a semi driver to slam on their brakes when they see the flashing yellow numbers.

Often times, those cars have a semi truck behind them.

The Indiana Driver’s Manual points out it can take twice as long for a semi to stop than it does for the car.

The manual states, “The average passenger car traveling at 55 miles per hour can stop in approximately 130 to 140 feet, or about half the length of a football field. A fully loaded tractor-trailer with hot brakes may take more than 400 feet to come to a complete stop, or more than the length of a football field.”

Chaplin said a truck driver going 55 mph behind a car that just dropped to 30 mph at the edge of Sulphur Springs has a choice of slamming their tire brakes and possibly causing a wreck, or hitting the engine retarder brake and keeping everyone safe.

He suggests the Town of Sulphur Springs or the Indiana Department of Transportation should give drivers more advanced warning of the speed limit change.

“They have a ‘speed reduced’ sign,” Chaplin said. “However, they go from 55 mph to 30 in about 1/4 mile.”

When it comes to loud road noise, Chaplin asks that the people of Sulphur Springs and other towns in Henry County to not single out truck drivers as the only culprits.

He said enforcing local noise ordinances equally across the board can also keep loud cars and tricked out pickup trucks from revving at all hours of the night.

“There are a lot of factors when it comes to noise,” he said.