Electrical engineer fined for ‘practicing engineering’ without a license after exposing traffic light flaw

BEAVERTON, OR (KOIN/WCMH) — An electrical engineer who exposed a design flaw in traffic lights is in a legal battle after the state of Oregon fined him for calling himself an engineer without having a state license.

Swedish-born electrical engineer Mats Jarlstrom says he’s proved the formula used for red light cameras is flawed when it comes to some drivers making right hand turns.

Jarlstrom shared his research at a conference for people behind national traffic policies. But when he took his potential breakthrough to Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering, the board accused him of calling himself an engineer without having a state license.

He was fined $500 for “unlicensed practice of engineering”, even though he says clients at his electronics business don’t require or even care if he’s licensed. He could face further punishment if he continues to call himself an engineer and talks about his research.

“They turn it around and want to kill the messenger,” Jarlstrom said.

His frustration was felt all the way in Washington D.C. where the Institute for Justice, which fights for peoples’ constitutional rights, decided to back him.

The group filed a federal lawsuit, arguing the State of Oregon can’t own the word engineer and “…to vindicate the right of Plaintiff Mats Järlström to talk and write freely without fear of government punishment.”

Jarlstrom’s lawyers claim the government has no legitimate interest in restricting who can talk about or critique engineering principles.

“Criticizing the government’s engineering isn’t a crime; it’s a constitutional right. Under the First Amendment, you don’t need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision, you don’t need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don’t need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights. Whether or not you use math, criticizing the government is a core constitutional right that cannot be hampered by onerous licensing requirements.” – Institute for Justice attorney Sam Gedge

According to the National Council of Examiners of Engineering and Surveying, there were 481,717 licensed engineers in the U.S. in 2016. But the National Society of Professional Engineers estimates about 2 million people are practicing engineering.

Many engineering professors aren’t required to be licensed engineers. At Oregon State University, only 13 of 45 faculty members in the Civil and Construction Engineering department have their engineering licenses. The university encourages but does not require their faculty members to become licensed engineers.

“The number drops dramatically outside that department because it’s not as critical to their success,” Scott Ashford, Dean of the OSU College of Engineering, said.

The Institute for Justice is representing Jarlstrom for free, and they’re not seeking any monetary damages. Jarlstrom says this is all about principles.

Eric Engelson, communications coordinator for the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineers and Land Surveying did “not have any comment on the open litigation.”

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