Oregon Red Light Ticket Objector, Clearly a Glutton for Punishment, Continues Fight

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
oregon red light ticket objector clearly a glutton for punishment continues fight

How far would you go in fighting a red light camera ticket? It’s possible that a few motorists who feel especially victimized might schedule an appearance at the courthouse to protest the photographic evidence, but surely no one would spend four years on the case.

Not Mats Järlström, a Beaverton, Oregon resident and man of principle.

Järlström, whose name sounds like a delicious, smoky cheese, made headlines in 2013 when he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in protest of his wife’s red light camera ticket, arguing that the amber light cycle at the intersection wasn’t suitably lengthy. Now, the stubborn man has his name on another lawsuit — this one against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.

Mr. Järlström is not an engineer, the board claims. Not so fast, says the dogged litigant.

In late 2014, the original red light case was handily dismissed, despite Järlström revealing that the amber light cycle at that Beaverton intersection — and others so equipped — lasted 3.35 seconds. The light cycle should last 3.5 seconds, he argued, stating that too-short amber lights amount to a cash grab on the part of the municipality.

Splitting hairs? Maybe, but the federal judge wasn’t interested in fractions of a second. Oregon state law says that an amber light means you stop immediately, not that you stop only if it’s safe to do so. The $260 ticket remained.

In most cases, this would have served as the final chapter to a lengthy saga, but Järlström’s battles were only just beginning. In the lead-up to the court case, his extensive research on red light cameras earned him an appearance on 60 Minutes. The Institute of Transportation Engineers invited Järlström to its annual meeting.

When the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying heard about Järlström’s research, it threatened Järlström with a $500 fine for falsely passing himself off as an engineer. The red-light-distrusting resident had earlier appealed to the board, hoping to present his findings to its members. Even calling himself an engineer in his letter was a violation, it said.

According to Reason, the threat became real in January of this year. Into Järlström’s mailbox came a $500 fine. Suddenly, another legal battle was underway.

You see, Järlström is an engineer. He holds a degree in electrical engineering from Sweden, and worked on aircraft camera systems in the Swedish Air Force before coming to the U.S. to work in high tech. However, he hasn’t registered for the state license that would make his title official.

Still, Järlström argues that an individual doesn’t need an official title to perform basic math and present findings. He recently filed a lawsuit against the board on constitutional grounds. While he doesn’t want a cent of compensation, he does want the state board to curb its overreach. The lawsuit caught the eye of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that now stands behind Järlström 100 percent.

“No matter how technical the topic, the government cannot give state-licensed experts a monopoly on exchanging ideas,” the firm stated. “Mats isn’t claiming the right to single-handedly change traffic lights himself; he just wants to talk about them.”

The institute has noted other examples of the state board’s zealous behavior, including a $1,000 fine leveled at a local activist who protested a planned power plant as being too loud for nearby residents.

[Image: Matthias Ripp/ Flickr ( CC BY 2.0)]

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  • Salzigtal Salzigtal on Apr 30, 2017

    Ignore the red light camera distraction. The man is being fined for exercising his freedom of speech. He hasn't charged any clients for his engineering services. He hasn't hung up a shingle and opened a structural engineering office. He bought stopwatch and took notes.

  • Salzigtal Salzigtal on Apr 30, 2017

    Now this woman could fight a speeding ticket: http://smalltownjustice.com (Un)fortunately, it appears she finally listened one of her lawyers and un-posted 99.9999% of her site. (100's of pages of anecdotes, appeals, briefs, and tirades). Any retired CHP out there remember her name? Here's hoping she's happier now than during and after the trials. Her fears & story sounded plausible, but NO, the correct response to red lights in the mirror is NEVER >1µsec of the gas pedal.

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