One Question Regarding Train Horns on Commercial Motor Vehicles
Answered by Retired Law Enforcement Officials (as of June 2013)
Warning: Laws are subject to change without notice.
These interpretations were made on May 14, 2013.
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TRAIN HORNS MOUNTED ON TRUCKS
Ol’ Blue, USA is devoting this month’s column to a single question, which is frequently asked at truck shows. We presented it to several retired and former law enforcement officers, and hope it is helpful.
Q: Are train horns legal to have on a truck but illegal to use, or are they illegal all together? Thank you – Jason in Texas
A: Provided by Jim Brokaw, formerly a Staff Sergeant, Nebraska State Patrol, Carrier Enforcement Division, Lincoln, NE: 49 CFR 393.81 specifies horn requirements for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The regulation and its two guidance questions are as follows: 393.81 Horn. Every bus, truck, truck tractor and every driven motor vehicle in driveaway-towaway operations shall be equipped with a horn and actuating elements which shall be in such condition as to give an adequate and reliable warning signal. Interpretation Question #1: Do the FMCSRs specify what type of horn is to be used on a CMV? Guidance: No. Interpretation Question #2: Are there any established criteria in the FMCSRs to use to determine the minimum sound level of horns on CMVs? Guidance: No. Nebraska state statute 60-6, 285 addresses horn requirements and prohibited acts at our state level. It requires every motor vehicle operated on the highway to be equipped with a horn in good working order, capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of not less than two hundred feet, but it doesn’t specify horn type – air versus electric. Under this statute, it is also unlawful to make any unnecessary or unreasonably loud or harsh sound by means of a horn. Using the train horn could also be classed as “Disturbing the Peace” under state law and most city ordinances. This might also be a safety violation of 49 CFR 392.2 which requires drivers to comply with local laws, but I’m not aware of anything making it an out-of-service violation. So, it would appear to me, under Nebraska law, you can equip a truck with a train horn, you just can’t ever use it.
A: Provided by Senior Trooper Monty Dial (Ret.), Texas Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, Garland, TX: This is what Texas Transportation Code 547.501 (Audible Warning Devices) states about horns: (a) A motor vehicle shall be equipped with a horn in good working condition that emits a sound audible under normal conditions at a distance of at least 200 feet. (b) A vehicle may not be equipped with and a person may not use on a vehicle a siren, whistle, or bell unless the vehicle is: (1) a commercial vehicle that is equipped with a theft alarm signal device arranged so that the device cannot be used as an ordinary warning signal; or (2) an authorized emergency vehicle that is equipped with a siren, whistle, or bell that complies with Section 547.702. (c) A motor vehicle operator shall use a horn to provide audible warning only when necessary to insure safe operation. (d) A warning device, including a horn, may not emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle.
A: Provided by Sgt. Pete Camm (Ret.), California Highway Patrol, Sacramento, CA: This is a very interesting question! Train enthusiasts know that train air horns, which typically operate between 120 and 145 psi, replaced steam-powered horns years ago. California Vehicle Code (VC) 27000 requires motor vehicles to be equipped with a horn that can be heard at a distance of at least 200 feet, but a horn cannot be “…unreasonably loud or harsh.” This rule only authorizes air horns on authorized emergency vehicles. A violation of 27000 VC may be cited as an infraction ($108 with no CDL point count), a “fix-it” ticket, or handled with a verbal warning. My search of the Code of Federal Regulations for NHTSA (FMVSS) did not find any specifications for horns. The Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) has a set of regulations under standard J377 for new automobiles, which could include CMVs, but I did not have access to this information. NHTSA issued an interpretation in April of 1995 regarding air horns attached to an air brake system. If an air horn is powered by air from the brake system (to sound like an actual train horn), it must comply with FMVSS standard 121 (appropriate certifications apply). Air hoses are required to meet FMVSS standard 106 (brake hoses), unless a check valve or other similar device is installed to prevent loss of air pressure for the brake system.
~ The Ask The Law™ programs are an ongoing educational effort between Ol’ Blue, USA™ and commercial law enforcement agencies. Ol’ Blue, USA is a non-profit organization dedicated to highway safety education and to improving relations between the motoring public, law enforcement and commercial drivers. “Ask The Law” is a registered trademark of Ol’ Blue, USA. This column is copyrighted© by Ol’ Blue, USA. Warning: Laws are subject to change without notice. These interpretations were made on May 14, 2013.