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Man Fined for Engineering without a License

Mats Järlström tried to help an Oregon city with a traffic light problem, and was rewarded with a $500 fine.

An Oregon man has filed a lawsuit against his state government after a dust-up over traffic lights and the meaning of the word “engineer.”

Mats Järlström is a resident of the city of Beaverton, and reached out to officials after becoming perplexed by the timing of his town’s traffic lights. Forbes explains how Mats discovered that the formula for yellow light length was developed for scenarios where drivers were going straight through an intersection. The formula, established nearly 60 years ago, didn’t account for the time it took turning drivers to both slow and turn, which resulted in a many traffic tickets for drivers turning right before the light had actually turned red.

In an email to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, Mats described his research into the traffic light problem and asked the organization to support further findings. But the agency basically responded with a threat: only Oregon-licensed engineers were allowed to refer to themselves as engineers, said the agency, and Mats could be in hot water if we he suggested he was one without that license.

But the thing is, Mats does have an electrical engineering degree that he earned in his native Sweden where he also worked for the Swedish Air Force and Luxor Electronics. According to Forbes, “he 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.”

But that didn’t stop the state of Oregon from launching a two-year investigation into this neer-do-well traffic light enthusiast, resulting in a $500 fine for the man. The Board ultimately said Mats engaged in the unlicensed “practice of engineering” when he spoke publicly about his yellow-light formula.

Mats has since retained counsel from the Institute of Justice, arguing that his right to free speech has been suppressed by the state. Attorney Wesley Hottot emphasized their point, saying “You don’t need a permission slip to criticize the government. Licensing boards across the country think the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them. They couldn’t be more wrong.”

I’m Anna Wells and this is IEN Now.

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