Right to speak freely about engineering is subject of 1st Amendment lawsuit
Right to speak freely about engineering is subject of 1st Amendment lawsuit published by nherting
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Posted on 2017-06-02
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An Oregon engineer who has been trying for years to convince state officials to elongate yellow traffic light times has a new cause: the First Amendment.
Mats Jarlstrom, who has an engineering degree from Sweden, has performed a variety of research and has concluded that yellow lights should last longer to allow for vehicles turning right. The state's response was not to consider his advice, but to fine him. Last summer, he was fined $500 (PDF) by the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying because he was found to be practicing engineering without a license. While states require engineers to have licenses and pass exams, Oregon also requires a license to even discuss engineering publicly or even to say you're an engineer.
Jarlstrom's letters to public agencies and the media discussing the need for new thinking in traffic lights prompted the fine. After paying up, he sued (PDF), saying the government's behavior was a breach of the First Amendment right of speech. Jarlstrom wasn't the only person the Oregon engineering board fined for speaking out against government practices, either. According to his legal team, the Institute for Justice, as many as six other people have been caught in the Oregon board's web.
Jarlstrom, who is self-employed and in the audio-components repair business, has now won a small victory in court. The board agreed this week not to impose any more fines on him while his lawsuit is in court, meaning he's free again to campaign about traffic lights.
"I'm thrilled to be free to start sharing my ideas," he said. "From the beginning, that's all I've wanted to do. Concerned citizens cannot be threatened with fines simply for contacting the government with concerns about road safety."
The accord (PDF), which only applies to Jarlstrom, says he can "describe himself publicly and privately using the word 'engineer' throughout the pendency of this litigation."
It also says that he may "communicate publicly about, and communicate privately about his theories relating to traffic lights throughout the pendency of this litigation as long as Plaintiff Jarlstrom's communications occur outside the context of a paid employment or contractual relationship... "
Jarlstrom's investigations into traffic light timing came after his wife got a ticket for running a red light. He noticed that some yellow lights, which were supposed to last 3.5 seconds, were turning red after 3.35 seconds. That difference of 150 milliseconds might have prevented his wife from getting a ticket.
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