Ever heard of a person getting fined for conducting research? No, we are not talking about secret nuclear research, it was a simple research about traffic lights, traffic cameras, and their timings that earned Mats Järlström a penalty of $500 from the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.
Mats Järlström, an aircraft camera mechanic from Swedish Airforce, has a degree in electrical engineering from Sweden. Mats’ wife was issued a traffic violation ticket by Oregon’s red light camera in 2013. Mats challenged that the problem is with the timings of the amber lights and conducted research on this matter. But guess what? He was not licensed to do such a study, so he ended up getting fined as well.
Järlström presented the findings of his research on an episode of “60 Minutes” when the Institute of Transportation Engineers invited him to submit the evidence at the institute’s annual meeting. He presented an extensive solution to the entire problem. According to him, the amber lights of traffic intersections are too short to allow vehicles to turn the corners safely. He explained the problem saying,
“They only looked at a vehicle traveling safely directly through an intersection, however, the equation they developed is not used for turning lanes. When you make a turn, you slow down, but that’s not accounted for in their solution, so people are getting caught in red light cameras for making safe turns.”
Mats raised a concern that the current traffic lights system puts the driver’s life at risk while adding to the revenue in the form of ‘fines.’ The Oregon state conducted their research on the laws dealing with the matter and charged Järlström of various illegal practices, which included running an unregistered audio product and testing business. The state declared that Mats engineering degree from Sweden is also invalid. Just the fact that he wrote, “I am an engineer,” it was offensive enough to create violations.
The story does not end with the $500 fine. Mats is counter-suing the board over the fine and claims that it is unconstitutional to stop someone from doing some math without seeking permission from the government. A national libertarian law firm, Institute for Justice, is currently supporting Mats Järlström in his case. The firm has given out a message to the Oregon state,
“The government has also stopped people like Mats from truthfully calling themselves “engineers.” Just as the State of Oregon has no monopoly on engineering concepts, it has no monopoly on words. That is why Mats has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to ask the federal courts to protect the First Amendment rights of all Oregonians to speak freely about whatever they want. It’s time for Oregon to give free speech the green light.”
Most countries require engineers to be registered and obtain a license for practicing engineering professionally. However, in the UK, a person graduating with an engineering degree is free to call himself an engineer, and even use the title legally in their signature. For the degree to be more credible, they do require registration from institutions like ICE or IStructE for chartership status.
Do you think the Oregon state went too far with the lawsuit and the fines? Share your views in the comments’ section below.