Man Fined for Doing Math without a License

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 25, 2017

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Red lightAn Oregon man, Mats Järlström, has been fined $500 for engaging in the “practice of engineering” without a license to do so.

He claims he was just doing math.

As the New York Times reports, Järlström became interested in traffic lights — and how long they remained yellow — after his wife got (and paid) a red-light camera ticket in their home town of Beaverton.

According to the camera, his wife drove through the intersection 12 one-thousandths of a second after the light turned red.  Järlström is a self-employed consultant who tests audio products and works with test instruments. He earned a BA in electrical engineering in Sweden, where he was born, and served as an airplane-camera mechanic with the Swedish Air Force.  However, he does not have a state-issued engineering license.

He spent years doing research on traffic light timing intervals, and consulting with one of the creators of the original 1959 formula for programming traffic lights.

Right on Yellow

Järlström concluded that the formula was flawed in that it didn’t take into account the extra time it takes for a slowing car to make a legal right turn on yellow.

As the Times reported,

After being laughed out of City Hall, a determined Mr. Järlström brought a federal lawsuit in 2014 against Beaverton, complaining that the too-short yellow lights endangered public safety. A judge dismissed the suit.

Järlström wrote several emails to the Washington County sheriff about his wife’s ticket. In one of these emails, he called himself “an excellent engineer.”

Unauthorized Practice

The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying then fined him $500 for engaging in the “practice of engineering” without a license.

Järlström responded with his own federal civil rights lawsuit against the Board, saying that it had violated his First Amendment rights.

According to the complaint,

Järlström wants to write and speak publicly about a matter of local, state, and nationwide concern: the safety and fairness of traffic lights and traffic-light cameras. Specifically, Järlström wishes to communicate about the mathematics behind traffic-light timing. …

Under Oregon’s Professional Engineer Registration Act (Act), … only state-licensed professional engineers are entitled to speak publicly on these sorts of topics. For everyone else—in the words of the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (Board)—sharing “reports, commentary, and testimony” on technical subjects is “clearly not protected speech.” … But speech like Järlström’s is exactly what the First Amendment’s Speech and Petition Clauses exist to protect.

Järlström also objects to the Board’s restrictions on who can call him or herself an “engineer.”

Braiding without a License

In other licensing news, as Forbes reports, South Dakota recently exempted natural hair braiders from the state laws requiring them to be licensed.

As Forbes notes,

Previously, braiders faced the toughest law in the nation. Before anyone could work twisting or braiding hair, they first had to obtain a cosmetology license. That license requires at least 2,100 hours of training, which can cost nearly $15,000 in tuition. Meanwhile, braiding without a permission slip from the government could lead to fines and even jail time. 

South Dakota was the 21st state to de-regulate hair braiding.  Unlicensed braiding (for money) remains illegal in many other states.

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