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Beaverton Man Claims Oregon Board Violated His First Amendment Rights


Mats Järlström has an engineering degree from Sweden, but when he tried to share his idea to improve the formula used to calculate traffic-light timing, a state board fined him for practicing engineering without a license.

Mats Järlström has an engineering degree from Sweden, but when he tried to share his idea to improve the formula used to calculate traffic-light timing, a state board fined him for practicing engineering without a license.

Institute for Justice/Creative Commons

Mats Järlström has an engineering degree from Sweden, but when he tried to share his idea to improve the formula used to calculate traffic light timing, it was not well received. In fact, the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OSBEELS) imposed a fine on him for practicing engineering without a license. Now, he’s teamed up with a national organization to sue to the members of the state board.

Four years ago, Järlström’s wife was caught by a red light camera and given a $260 fine. She paid the fine, but that was just the beginning of the story for Järlström. He looked up the formula Oregon uses to determine how long a traffic light stays yellow before it turns red. He concluded that the formula, originally drafted in 1959, didn’t give drivers enough yellow light time to legally make right turns before the light changed.

Järlström drafted a modified formula and shared it with Beaverton city officials, but they were not convinced. He also presented his findings to the state board that licenses engineers. The board then fined him $500 for calling himself an engineer and practicing engineering without a license. 

Mats Järlström displays the document he received from the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. 

Mats Järlström displays the document he received from the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. 

Institute for Justice/Creative Commons

“I approached the board of engineers here in Oregon to present my findings … and to ask them to support this work,” Järlström said. “However, they just turned around and accused me of being illegal — literally for saying who I am.” 

The minutes of an Aug. 11, 2016, meeting of its Law Enforcement Committee say, “[OSBEELS member Dave] Van Dyke expressed his opinion that by Järlström refuting the professional opinion of the professional engineers who had engineered the original formula and claiming that they were incorrect, he was practicing engineering.”

OPB reached out to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, but a spokesman said the board is not commenting on the case at this time.

Sam Gedge is an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the nonprofit representing Järlström in this case. Gedge said this is not an issue that’s limited to Oregon, and the nonprofit has represented plaintiffs in similar cases across the country. 

“More and more we’re seeing licensing boards using their power to target citizens who are just speaking publicly about issues that matter to them,” Gedge said. 

For Järlström, this is also personal.

“I literally feel violated,” he said. “I need to be able to say who I am and I literally am a Swedish engineer.”

Editor’s note: This post has been edited to include a quote from the minutes of an OSBEELS Law Enforcement Committee meeting.

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