SALEM, Oregon - Mats Järlström is, by all accounts, an engineer. He graduated from engineering school in Sweden, served as an airplane-camera mechanic in the Swedish Air Force and worked in research and development at an electronics manufacturer. For the past 20 years, he has earned a living designing and repairing audio equipment.
Järlström was inspired by a $150 ticket his wife received in the mail in May after driving through an intersection with a red-light camera in Beaverton. His research showed that the mathematical formula used in the timing of yellow lights was outdated and unfair to drivers. He knew the charge was ridiculous, inept, nothing more than an attempted punishment for telling the truth and exposing Oregon officials with their bias and ignorance.
While not a "licensed professional" in the state of Oregon, Järlström has a brain and a sense of justice. He knew in his own mind that not only was the law wrong but he thought he could prove it. There is no doubt that Oregon officials conspired to cheat Järlström by making a false accusation against him. That's where the officials made their second mistake.
The reason this all came to a head is that Järlström did his own study of the timing mechanisms in the state's red-light cameras. He found them flawed. When he made his results public, a lone Oregon official decided to punish him with a $500 fine for "unlicensed practice of engineering." He must have convinced his supervisor and co-workers to go along with the false punishment.
His calculations—which he shared with local police, as well as the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying—suggest that at certain intersections, yellow lights don't last long enough, prompting a 60 Minutes investigation as well as a speaking gig at the Institute of Transportation Engineers's annual conference.
Rather than investigating those claims, however, the Oregon engineering board asked Järlström to stop calling himself an engineer, and in January fined him $500 for the crime of "practicing engineering without being registered."
Our First Amendment says 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.
Perhaps next Oregon decides to punish someone for publishing the truth or their opinion, the innocent person, engineer or not, will file a heavy lawsuit against Oregon.