Questioning red light cameras created an unexpected problem for Mats Järlström, who was fined $500 for “unlicensed practice of engineering” by the state of Oregon.
That sparked a lawsuit by the Institute for Justice on his behalf.
“Criticizing the government’s engineering isn’t a crime; it’s a constitutional right,” said attorney Sam Gedge of the Institute for Justice.
The Institute filed the federal lawsuit contending that Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying violated Järlström’s First Amendment rights by fining him. Järlström contended that many of the 25,000-plus red-light-running citations at one busy intersection in Beaverton are bogus because the yellow light is too short. He has an engineering background.
“Specifically, Järlström wishes to communicate about the mathematics behind traffic-light timing,” the Institute’s complaint states. “If he does so in Oregon, however, he will be exposed to government investigation and punishment for engaging in the unlicensed ‘practice of engineering.’”
Järlström sent a number of emails to the city and the sheriff of Washington County with a formula backing up his allegations.
In some of the emails, Järlström called himself an “engineer” because he has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, The Oregonian reported. That prompted the board to investigate the Beaverton resident for “practicing engineering without a license.”
Fined for Using Math
After two years of investigation, the board fined Järlström $500 and ordered him to stop critiquing lights. They also warned that Järlström can face thousands of dollars in fines and years of jail if he did not stop.
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But that “unauthorized engineering” merely consisted of using a mathematical formula to analyze traffic lights’ operations, Gedge said. Järlström was prompted to start analyzing the lights after his wife received a ticket in 2013.
The Institute of Traffic Engineers asked Järlström to present his research at its national conference. He has also appeared on national media, including 60 Minutes.
A Free Speech Issue?
“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,” Gedge said. “Whether or not you use math, criticizing the government is a core constitutional right that cannot be hampered by onerous licensing requirements.”
The lawsuit, Mats Järlström v. Christopher D. Aldridge et. All, asks the court to overturn the board’s ruling.
It looks as if unlicensed use of math is now illegal in Oregon.
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