Oregon Censored, Fined Man $500 For Criticizing Red-Light Cameras Without An Engineering License
Nick Sibilla, Contributor
Does the First Amendment apply to talking about math?
That’s the gist of a new lawsuit filed by Mats Järlström, who was fined $500 by an Oregon agency after he suggested that the standard formula for timing yellow lights could be improved.
Mats’ interest in traffic-light timing began four years ago when his wife got a ticket from a red-light camera in Beaverton, Oregon. He soon became fascinated with the math behind traffic lights. According to Mats, the formula behind the timing for yellow lights was limited to driving straight through intersections. But the formula, which dates back to 1959, does not account for the fact that drivers slow down when making turns. As a result, Mats claims the formula is “misapplied” when used on turning lanes, ensnaring many guiltless drivers.
According to an investigation by local TV station KOIN 6, Beaverton issues up to six times as many traffic tickets as similar-sized cities:
Until 2010, the city only issued tickets to drivers who ran red lights going straight. That year 1,759 tickets were written. But in 2011, when Beaverton began handing out tickets for right hand turns, that number skyrocketed to 5,653 and then 7,955 in 2012. In 2015 the ratio was still lopsided: 2,062 tickets for drivers going straight and 5,538 for those turning on red.
In a display of civic engagement, Mats emailed the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying in the hopes that they could help him raise public awareness and asked for their “support and help to investigate and present the laws of physics related to transportation engineering.”
He got the opposite.
After curtly informing Mats that they do not regulate traffic lights, the Board warned him that without an engineering license from the state of Oregon, Mats would be breaking the law if he even referred to himself using the word “engineer.” Then, the Board launched an investigation into Mats, which lingered for nearly two years and culminated in a $500 fine. According to the Board, Mats engaged in the unlicensed “practice of engineering” when he spoke publicly about his “critique and calculations” for the yellow-light formula. Moreover, only Oregon-licensed professional engineers are allowed to use the word “engineer” to describe themselves.
Although Mats is not a licensed professional engineer (and never claimed to), he has a broad background in math and science. In his native Sweden, Mats earned a degree in electrical engineering, and worked for the Swedish Air Force and Luxor Electronics. Mats even presented his research on traffic-light timing at an Institute of Transportation Engineers conference, and he corresponded with one of the physicists who developed the original 1959 formula.
Working with the Institute for Justice, Mats has now engineered a lawsuit, arguing that the Oregon’s engineering laws violate his right to free speech and his right to petition, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“I was fined simply for speaking out and was told that I can’t truthfully call myself an engineer,” Mats said in a statement. “The board has not only silenced me, it has silenced many other people who want to talk about technical issues.”
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT FORBES.COM.