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Oregon Gag Order Against Red Light Camera Critic Backfires
Federal judge, public, skeptical over Oregon Engineering Board attempt to gag citizen engineer for publicly criticizing yellow signal timing.

Engineer Mats Jarlstrom
The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering may have made a big mistake when it tried to use state law to silence a critic of red light cameras. Engineer Mats Jarlstrom earned national headlines after the Institute for Justice sued the state board for charging Jarlstrom with illegally practiced engineering by publicly speaking out against signal timing practices in the state. On Tuesday, Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman approved the request of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to help defend Jarlstrom.

"Mats Jarlstrom has used his training as an engineer to argue to the government and to the public that the yellow light timing on traffic lights is poorly calculated," ACLU attorney Kristian Roggendorf wrote. "Such speech by a citizen about how the government should operate -- a quintessential matter of public concern -- is maximally protected by the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech and petition. In fact, Jarlstrom's training as an engineer makes him especially knowledgeable about proper timing and stopping distances, so his speech is especially valuable to public debate."

The ACLU's assistance might not be needed, as US District Court Judge Anna J. Brown last week ordered the board to stand down and granted Jarlstrom to speak his mind publicly, at least while the case remains pending.

In January the state board levied a $500 fine against Jarlstrom for daring to suggest in public that his engineering training led him to believe the yellow signal times are dangerously short at intersections in the city of Beaverton where cars are making turns. Jarlstrom is not alone in that belief, as Alexei Maradudin, an original author of the ITE yellow signal timing formula first developed in 1959, says that his engineering work has been misinterpreted to set yellows that are too low for such turns (view letter).

The engineering board accused Jarlstrom, who holds a degree in electrical engineering, of illegally calling himself an "engineer" because he is not licensed by the Oregon engineering board.

"By reviewing, critiquing and altering an engineered ITE formula, and submitting the critique and calculations for his modified version of the ITE formula to members of the public for consideration and modification of Beaverton, Oregon's and 'worldwide' traffic signals, which signals are public equipment, processes and works, Jarlstrom applied special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences to such creative work as investigation, evaluation, and design in connection with public equipment, processes, and works," the board wrote in its January 10 order. "Jarlstrom thereby engaged in the practice of engineering under Oregon Revised Statutes 672.005."

The Institute for Justice and the ACLU are both asking Judge Brown to strike down that law as unconstitutional, considering that 80 percent of trained engineers are not licensed as professional engineers. After news of the court case broke, the Oregon Board of Engineering reported "issues with our phone system" as the lines were jammed with angry calls from the public.

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