Oregon Man Fined $500 for ‘Unlawful’ Study That Found Yellow Stoplights Are Too Short

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By Lukas Mikelionis | 5:50 am, April 27, 2017
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An Oregon man has been fined $500 by the state government for suggesting that yellow traffic lights should last slightly longer.

The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying hit Mats Järlström with a fine for unlawfully engaging in the “practice of engineering” by studying the state’s traffic flow systems.

Järlström, a former mechanic in the Swedish military, was slapped with the absurd penalty because his work contravenes licensing regulations in the state, according to the Institute for Justice.

He started his investigation into traffic lights after his wife got a ticket for turning right on a yellow light back in 2013. He wanted to know “how how exactly yellow lights are timed.”

Järlström found out that the formula used in traffic lights was deficient, and invented his own one, while corresponding with one of the formula’s original creators.

He took his research and started reaching out to people in the scientific community, government authorities and the media.

His new formula ended up at the state’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. But rather than appreciating his findings, the Board fined him $500 because he engaged in unlicensed “practice of engineering.”

According to the Board, Järlström had no right to criticize the length of yellow lights and talk about his ideas with “members of the public” because he’s not an Oregon-licensed engineer. The man was also told to stop referring himself using the word “engineer”, despite having a degree in electrical engineering from Sweden.

He is now suing the state of Oregon, claiming his traffic lights critique is protected by the First Amendment.

“Criticizing the government’s engineering isn’t a crime; it’s a constitutional right,” said Sam Gedge, the IJ attorney representing Järlström.

“Under the First Amendment, you don’t need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision, you don’t need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don’t need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights.

“Whether or not you use math, criticizing the government is a core constitutional right that cannot be hampered by onerous licensing requirements.”

Järlström said: “People should be free to debate any topic, including technical topics like math and traffic lights.”

“But I was fined simply for speaking out and was told that I can’t truthfully call myself an engineer.

“The board has not only silenced me, it has silenced many other people who want to talk about technical issues.”