PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – An Oregon resident trained in engineering in Sweden says he’s developed a safer method for timing traffic lights, and the state engineering board fined him for talking about it.

Mats Jarlstrom says Oregon laws make it illegal for anyone who isn’t a licensed engineer to criticize the state’s methods for timing traffic lights. Jarlstrom calls that an unconstitutional prohibition on free speech.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, Jarlstrom claims Oregon’s Professional Engineer Registration Act illegally restricts discussion of public engineering projects to state-licensed engineers and creates a “government-run monopoly on engineering concepts.”

The act, and the board that enforces it, keep people from discussing the safety and fairness of traffic lights and the formulas engineers use to coordinate their timing, Jarlstrom claims.

Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying fined Jarlstrom after finding his public discussion of the formula for traffic-light timing was “clearly not protected speech.”


But Jarlstrom says his critique is exactly the kind of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Jarlstrom was born in Sweden, where he graduated with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He says he worked in technical fields with the Swedish Air Force and Luxor Electronics before moving to Beaverton, Oregon, 20 years ago.

In 2013, Jarlstrom’s wife got a traffic ticket after a city camera recorded her running a red light. That sparked Jarlstrom’s fascination with the mathematical formulas behind the timing of traffic lights. Jarlstrom says he dedicated his free time to researching the formulas before concluding they were unsafe and resulted in unfair traffic tickets.

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The next year, Jarlstrom sued Beaverton, claiming the Portland suburb programmed its yellow lights to be so brief that drivers didn’t have time to make it through an intersection before the lights turned red. Jarlstrom claimed the lights put drivers in danger of wrecks and said extending the length of yellow lights would dramatically reduce the number of tickets the city issued for running red lights.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon tossed that lawsuit in October 2014, after U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta found Jarlstrom didn’t show that he faced imminent harm from the city’s policy on yellow light length.

Any driver entering an intersection under a yellow light is already breaking the law, Acosta reasoned, because Oregon is one of a handful of states that effectively treats a yellow light as a signal to stop rather than a warning that the light will soon turn red.

Three months after the ruling, the state Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying launched a two-year investigation of Jarlstrom, ultimately issuing a $500 fine for publicly critiquing the mathematical formulas behind traffic light cameras without an engineering license, according to the complaint.

On April 25, Jarlstrom filed a new federal lawsuit. This time, he says the board not only regulates professional engineers, it also “restricts and punishes ordinary people for their most basic acts of civic engagement and political speech.”

A representative for the board declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Jarlstrom describes his crusade to lengthen the duration of yellow lights, saying he approached local and national news outlets, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying and even Dr. Alexei Maradudin, one of the physicists who in 1959 helped develop the formula for traffic-light timing that is still used today. Jarlstrom says he told them all that he believed the formula was dangerously flawed. Specifically, he said, the formula does not allow enough time for a driver to begin a right turn at the last moment of a green light and complete it before the light turns red.

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Jarlstrom says he sent the groups copies of the new formula he had developed and got good reviews from a presentation he gave at the 2016 meeting of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

He says he is almost finished writing a paper about his theories for the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal, but can’t publish it because the board is illegally restricting his free speech.

Jarlstrom says he should be able to call himself an engineer in the journal’s biographical blurb and promotional materials without fearing another investigation and more fines.

His lawyer, Sam Gedge with the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia, said in an interview that while the state may have the right to regulate who practices engineering, it doesn’t get to regulate the discussion of public safety.

“All Mats wants to do is talk,” Gedge said. “The state of Oregon investigated him for nearly two years and fined him for doing that. And that raises profound legal concerns. It’s unconstitutional. You don’t need a license to talk about the Supreme Court, for example. You don’t need a license to run a blog and you don’t need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights.

“The government doesn’t have any legitimate interest in deciding who gets to talk about anything,” Gedge added. “Even if a state bar licenses who gets to practice law, you don’t need a license to criticize a court ruling. Here, Mats was trying to talk to the media about a legitimate issue of public safety. And you don’t need a permission slip from the government to do that.”

  • anarchyst

    …the same thing happened to execution expert Fred Leuchter who PROVED that there were no “gas chambers” at Auschwitz…Leuchter was prosecuted under an obscure Massachusetts law for “practicing engineering without a license”. He also “pissed off the wrong people”…

    • Abz B Zbas

      That’s funny.

    • Mace

      Shooting the messenger. Exactly what happens to every whistleblower. It sucks.

  • Jim

    This is not about safety, this is a revenue maker for the local governments.

    • kim

      All crooks

  • Abz B Zbas

    They say traffic lights are timed to maintain traffic flow based on the relative speed limit. However, in my experience if you do just about 5 MPH over the speed limit you will make it through most lights. Of course, you also run the risk of getting ticketed. Call it a conspiracy theory, but the city is trying to entrap you.

    • sharkboy

      most places 5mph over speed limit is warning not punishable by fine. Even with multiple stops. Its the norm for me.

  • REALConservative

    LOL…please tell me where exactly I can go to complain about Oregon traffic signals so I can get a citation!

    What a bunch of dumbfucks.

  • Brian Czayka

    oh bullshit….fake news…

    • kim

      Not about predatory traffic light tickets. Cameras are coming to a town near you

  • Mother Earth

    This is the ugly face of fascism in which Hitler thrived, the corrupt and crooked system is chiselling away at the last bits of freedom you have and quashing Democracy with brutality and hatred.

    • kim

      Amen to that

  • Steve Rusk

    Tampering with the traffic light timing has reaped huge profits for the corporations involved, caused numerous accidents and a few deaths in Ohio, all for the sake of increased revenue. It’s a nasty business, Cleveland lost a lawsuit over tampering with traffic devices and is now being sued for breach of contract by the company that owned the traffic cameras

  • Xemu_X_Xenu_Jr

    Predatory Policing for Revenue. Period.

    Predatory Policing for Revenue. Period. (Can’t be said enough times)

    Monetary collusion for Advancing Predatory Capitalism. Each Robo-Red-Light intersection cost the municipality roughly $40,000.00/month (10 Intersections $5,000,000.00/yr) at an incremental monthly cost to the provider of almost Zero. So will a cash flow of $5M/yr go a long way to buy a lot of influence? Secondary but no less influential is that City, County Employees and their Families are EXEMPT from Robo-Red-Light Tickets (keeps them from grumbling to eliminate the Predatory Policing). This Revenue Policy mostly impacts those least able to afford this predatory taxation.

    These Robo-Red-Lights do much more harm than good. Increased Driver Stress. Increased Accidents as folks tend to stop before the light turns Yellow in anticipation of the very short interval to Red. Folks slamming on the brakes in foul weather to avoid tickets causes loss of control accidents and more stress. The city becomes a cold, cruel, predatory cartel zone with a very bad reputation with travelers now avoiding all excursions to anywhere near the city.

    The only beneficiaries are the Providers, Politicians and Courts (that don’t dismiss every single objected ​ticket) that line their pockets off the backs of poor folks. This article underscores the money even more as the Traffic Engineering​ Dept worked for two years (spending hundreds more in revenue by investigating over the $500 Fine) to eliminate any threat to the revenue stream to those bought-n-paid-off. The influence of a $B Business comes not from continuously spending but by the possibility of spending to eliminate all those (in elections / primaries or just point to those that were made into Tar-Babies) that don’t comply instantly. Just show-up smoking a Daddy-WarBucks Cigar and rubbing elbows is all it takes (as soon as everyone knows the consequences to objections).

    • kim

      It also destroys the the milk of basic human kindness because if you lend your vehicle to a family member and they get a ticket at a redlight guess who is responsible and has to pay? You are! Happened to me twice