By on December 8, 2017

public domain

You can’t fight city hall, they say, but you can fight the state of Oregon — and win.

That’s what one man, Mats Järlström, found out after a dogged fight against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. The epic constitutional battle, which pitted a former electronics engineer against an overzealous bureaucracy, began when his wife received a ticket for running a red light.

Järlström first fought the ticket, which was mailed to the Beaverton, Oregon couple in 2013, via a federal civil rights lawsuit. In the suit, he claimed the red light cycle at the offending intersection was not sufficiently lengthy, being some 3.35 seconds in duration. The norm is 3.5 seconds. However, the federal judge was not receptive to the idea that this amounted to a cash grab on the part of the municipality, tossing the case out of court. (Järlström’s wife paid the ticket.)

Undeterred in his quest against the cameras, Järlström submitted a 2014 letter to the state board arguing his case. In it, he presented research on red light camera systems and asked to discuss the issue with the board’s members. Having once worked on aircraft camera systems for the Swedish Air Force, the technology held particular interest for him. Oregon was not happy to hear from him.

Rather than hear Järlström out, the board issued a $500 fine. Despite holding a degree in electrical engineering (and having worked as one), the state board said Järlström’s research on the topic amounted to practicing engineering without a license. Even stating the words “I am an engineer” was a violation of state law, it said.

Clearly, the state board thought this would silence him. It did not. Claiming that a person does not need a license to practice basic math, Järlström filed a non-monetary lawsuit against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying on constitutional (read: free speech) grounds. A libertarian law firm, Institute for Justice, picked up the case.

According to Reason, the case revealed numerous instances where the state board had aggressively investigated similar cases, even going as far as opening a file on Portland Monthly after the publication described a woman as being “an engineer behind Portland’s newest bridge.”

This week, Järlström’s persistence finally paid off. The state admitted in court that it violated the plaintiff’s rights.

“We have admitted to violating Mr. Järlström’s rights,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Christina L. Beatty-Walters said, adding that the state’s handling of the issue “was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests.”

Oregon has now refunded Järlström’s $500 fine and assured him it will not police his use of the word “engineer.” However, that’s not good enough for the plaintiff. The quiet Swede wants the state to back off with its broad interpretation of the law, citing previous cases.

“Past history suggests the board can’t be trusted on how the laws should be applied constitutionally,” said Samuel Gedge, Järlström attorney.

The judge in the case, Stacie F. Beckerman, seems to agree.

“If the board got it wrong in this case, why should the court defer to the board going forward?” Beckerman stated. With another ruling coming down within a few weeks, it’s possible the state board could find its powers weakened in the near future.

Never doubt the power of a patient and righteous individual, even one that’s peeved over a $150 red light ticket.

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57 Comments on “Oregon Man Wins Three-year-long Constitutional Battle Sparked by Red Light Camera Ticket...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Unfortunately, he still has not fixed the underlying issue, that the light was mis-programmed and triggered a ticket unfairly.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    As an engineer who hates the notion of red light cameras, I applaud Mr Järlström.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Do you not believe in traffic laws?

      I have been disappointed in a number of redlight camera deployments, due to shortened yellows and requiring absolutely stops to turn right (I would probably put in a 2-5 mph threshold).

      But unless one does not believe in traffic laws, something or someone has to enforce the traffic laws. I would rather have cameras and sensors do the enforcement (with proper deployment and proper due process to challenge citations), than have alcoholic wife beaters without the work ethic, intelligence or attitude to work in the private sector do the enforcement.

      -Innocent, unarmed people cowardishly murdered by traffic cameras: Zero.
      -Women pulled over and raped by traffic cameras: Zero.
      -People killed in high speed chases by traffic cameras: Zero.

      In addition, traffic cameras do not put taxpayers on the hook for six figure pensions at age 50, and if a traffic camera is defective and does not work it can actually be fired, unlike a cop.

      No wonder the cop’s thuggish unions, like the FOP, do not like traffic cameras.

      What are lazy, entitled, bad attitude people going to do to steal six figure salaries and pensions from taxpayers if technology reduces the need for cops.

      • 0 avatar

        1) IF the enforcement rules were set up to target dangerous drivers – maybe 2+ seconds into the red and right on red tickets if the video shows the driver fails to yield the right of way – no one would object to the cameras. But then there would be no cameras because the total fines would not even cover the typical $4,000 to $5,000 per month per camera costs.

        And, there are many cases where the cameras caused the crash rates to go UP. Is that OK – it is not OK with the many organized groups who are working to get the cameras removed.

        James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        You know, racer, there’s a general rule about technology: If it can be used, it will be mis-used. For all your support of traffic cameras, all they’ve done for most people is cost them money because they are mis-used.

        How, you ask? By poor programming, whether that be intentional or accidental. Traffic lights before these cameras actually allowed more time to SAFELY clear intersections and in many cases had an intentional one- to two-second delay between turning one set red and the other set green. Prior to cameras it was understood that humans weren’t and couldn’t be “perfect” by applying their brakes the instant the light turned yellow. The systems today are designed to ‘force’ perfection by fining them often ridiculous charges for not being clear of an intersection by the time the light changed to red. While I don’t have the statistics, I have read that there have been MORE red-light accidents since cameras were installed (not even considering the tickets) rather than fewer because the cross-traffic is released so much more quickly. I see this constantly around where I live.

        The mis-use then is in trying to enforce an unrealistic assumption and fining people who would otherwise been, at worst, marginal. I do agree with fining those who ENTER the intersection at speed when the light turns from yellow to red; they should have been trying to stop. But fining someone for running a light when they are clearly stopped, albeit with their front wheels over the line comes short of ludicrous, since the specific definition of ‘on’ or ‘behind’ the law tends to vary by state. Some states ensure the line is narrow, making the definition pretty clear but others make that line so broad you could almost park a car on it. And yes, even with ‘right turn on red’ those cameras trigger… unless the right turn has its own DIVIDED lane with its own light (and sometimes even then.)

        But let’s not ignore the fact that many cities around the country rely now on income from these lights and have subsequently shortened the yellow-light timing in order to ‘trap’ those marginal drivers who either could not stop in time (there’s still laws out there waiving the stop if some proof the driver at least attempted such) or simply could not clear within the allowed time (traveling at or only slightly below the speed limits.) And I’m sure even you have noticed how during some times of the day or night, the lights are clearly programmed to force the driver to unsafe speeds if they want to hit green for any significant distance. These will be timed either to 5mph+ over the limit or 10mph BELOW the speed limit. This invites a 15mph difference in traffic flow which increases the risk of road rage and has been known to cause crashes simply because of the disparity in speed. Again, I’m not going to go into the issue of how speed limits themselves are mis-used. Towns have been sued because of irrationally-changed or placed traffic signs and too-strict enforcement. Towns and cities have often relied on traffic fines as their primary source of income.

        The cameras in themselves are not the cause of the problem, rather they are a symptom of the problem.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “$260 red light ticket.”

    That’s their problem right there. Here in suburban Chicago the fee is $100 (my wife got one, and the video was pretty damning). Keep the fee just at the edge of what will motivate someone to fight.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Good for him. Triumph over injustice is always a good thing.

    I hope he continues his plight and gets the duration times adjusted to their realistic and proper amount.

  • avatar

    Red light cameras are very expensive, typically leasing from the for-profit camera companies for $4,000 to $5,000 per month per camera. For the cameras to produce profits to the for-profit city business partners, the majority of tickets have to go to safe drivers for small technical fouls that endangered no one. Two scams are typically used to ticket mostly safe drivers. 1) The yellow intervals are left or set slightly too short for the ACTUAL perception/reaction times and ACTUAL approach speeds of at least 85% of the drivers (safest timing method) – often short by about one full second. Adding one second to the yellow intervals will permanently reduce violation rates by 70% to 90%, proving the lights were mis-timed to increase ticket rates. 2) Cameras ticket slow rolling right on red turns that federal research by NHTSA shows are involved in only six one-hundredths of one percent of crashes with injuries or fatalities, so almost every right on red camera ticket goes to a safe driver who endangered no one. Mats Jarlstrom is one of many individuals and groups seeking to end the for-profit racket of red light cameras. I work with the National Motorists Association on this effort, and the number of camera cities is steadily decreasing.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Years ago, I talked with a City of Dallas signal engineer (I noticed the guy working on a signal controller at an intersection, and parked, got out, and went over to talk to him). He was nice enough to take a few minutes to tell me about the city’s signal timing standards.

      He told me that they programmed yellow lights to last one second per ten miles an hours of speed limit, so, for a 30mph zone, the yellow would last 3 seconds, and for a 45mph limit, 4.5 seconds. Once the light turned red, the red light for the other street would last another full second before turning green, to allow traffic to clear (let red light runners through), and minimize conflicts (accidents).

      • 0 avatar

        There is a serious problem with that formula. It is fairly rare for the actual 85th percentile speeds to be within 2 mph of the posted limit — ie. 85th speeds of 28 to 32 mph in a 30 zone. It is far more common for the actual 85th speeds to be 5 or more mph higher than the posted limit, so a 30 zone almost always needs at least a 3.5 second yellow, and often more like 4.0 seconds.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Sounds like you think your some kind of engineer, wiseguy. Expect a letter and fine from the State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        They can suck it.

      • 0 avatar

        If you live in Michigan, you can be thankful that bills to bring red light cameras to Michigan were withdrawn in the face of opposition from the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the ACLU, the Campaign for Liberty, Abate, the Mackinac Center think tank, the judges association, the National Motorists Association, skeptical editorials in both major Detroit newspapers, and others.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          @Duke – I’ve heard that formula before and i still say DOT engineers have it wrong. I struggle to clear a 30 mph intersection red light, when the light turn yellow and I’m right on top of, or just past the “point of no return”.

          But a 60 mph intersection, I can cruise through with room to spare, given the same “point of no return” scenario, in fact I can be a couple hundred feet before the PONR and still (barely) clear the red light at 60 mph.

          Meaning at twice the speed, I clear the intersection twice as fast and don’t really require the extra seconds. Or I should say I need more time at 30 mph to have an equal chance of not “running the RED” relative to the 60 mph red light “timing”. Make them all 6 second “yellows” is what I’m meaning to say, regardless of speed zone.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yes if you assume the same intersection width is constant you will need more time to clear it if you are traveling at a slower speed. On the other hand the risk of injury goes up with speed so creating a longer buffer so they is a better chance of the car fully exiting the intersection even if it entered on a stale yellow. Speaking of the width of the intersection that should be factored into the timing as well. There are intersections where there may be 6 or 7 lane widths or more to cross in some locations and only 2 or 3 in others.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Say for the sake of argument the chances of injury in a crash doubles as speed doubles, the chances of striking a moving object passing through a hole in front of you, or a vehicle “running” a fresh RED is also cut in half as speeds double and they leave the area 2 times faster, assuming there’s no intentional ramming and reaction time and acceleration times for the green light are equal all around, and of course equal number of lanes and intersection dimensions, 30 and 60 mph zones.

          • 0 avatar
            sgtjmack

            Here in Louisiana, they are supposed to be timed and or designed so that if you enter the intersection, at the posted speed limit, when the light turns yellow, you can clear the other side of the intersection before the light turns red. This is because not all intersections are the same size and configuration. The one draw back they have here is that when one turns red, the other turns green instantly, no pause. But it doesn’t matter because there are countless red light runners in this area.

            The city of New Orleans recently lost a court case because of unconstitutional reasons and are supposed to repay over $85 million dollars in fines. If they want to operate the cameras again, they need to have a crap ton of posted signs that will cost more than the cameras. So they will mot be going into operation again.

            In Arizona they got rid of all speed and red light cameras also due to unconstitution reasons.

            As much as I hate red light runners, I hate unconstitutional laws, law makers and law enforcement personell even more.

        • 0 avatar
          MrGreenMan

          It was a real bipartisan moment when everyone agreed to slap the handful of wealthy suburbs that tried to spring those on Michiganders.

          • 0 avatar

            That it was. It was particularly funny when the Mackinac Center interviewed a main bill sponsor and asked why he had supported an earlier bill to ban ticket cameras. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      $4,000 to $5,000 per month is less than half the pay and benefits for a cop, with no pension obligation or paying people faking disability.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    i live in the largest metropolitan city in the state. Our yellow lights are pretty long i think. when i go to my small hometown of 15-20k the short yellow lights get me most every trip. thankfully no tickets or accidents, though.

    my point is i feel there should be some kind of standardization. how much would an extra second really affect their traffic flow?

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The Institute for Justice does some great work around the country. For instance, they are representing plaintiffs in civil forfeiture suits, trying to get their money back from state and local governments. As an example, they just won a case in Wyoming where a man’s (Phil Parhamovich’s) life savings ($91,800) was seized during a traffic stop on Interstate 80.

    And, State of Oregon? You suck.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    The petty and political vindictiveness of the Oregon Board should open its’ members up to personal liability, but the cynic in me says it won’t.
    Does GM require Professional Engineer stamps on their designs? How about Boeing? How about Intel or Broadcom? I think I’d rather have products from any of these companies than from the consulting practices of the those Board members.

    • 0 avatar

      The License thing is nuts. I have worked with many engineers over the years and very few have a PE. Most working for a manufacturing company. It seems Washington State and Oregon have much stricter laws about licensing engineers then pretty much any other state which is interesting. Seems like kind of a messy system, the only 2 engineering professions that I have seen have a lock on requiring a license in the US are Civil and Structural. Always seemed kind of odd and might be why our civil stuff falls a bit behind the times, it’s amazing how many projects in the US were done by self trained engineers over the years.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        Yeah, it is a mess. Engineering societies develop their own codes and many of those are the basic to design and manufacturing if you want things like UL and CE approval. Manufacturing companies generally have an exception to PE licensing requirements. The market determines if you are qualified as well as the tort lawyers.
        I am all in favor of PEs for public works of all types as well as structures that aren’t covered by prescriptive (aka cookbook) codes. Public safety is a legitimate concern. What’s covered can also include electrical and mechanical equipment (ie high voltage motors, boilers, pressure vessels).
        If I were looking for a PE, I wouldn’t chose one with a history like the Oregon board members, as their general judgement in this instance would disqualify them in my eyes. There are canons of conduct just like in other professions.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Technically, you can be a graduate engineer, work on designs for twenty years, but unless you take and pass the PE exam, you cannot identify yourself as an “Engineer”, you have to say “designer”. Kinda sucks but that’s the way the rules are written.

          Most engineering, I mean design, is performed by “designers” as no consulting company is going to pay for all their design staff to be PEs. Not unusual at all. Not uncommon for many professions. If you hire an electrician, more likely than not the person doing your installation work is not licensed as an electrician. They work under the license of the owner.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    This reminds me of the Flash of Genius movie story – if you sue for a principle, and stand on that principle without distractions of money and empty apologies, you might just win the suit.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I thought of the same story.

      But such a journey may also ruin your life, and the ‘camera towns’ are counting on us to favor paying the fine instead. It’s really sad.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Some heroes don’t wear capes.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Sometimes there’s even a proper and constructive place for a certifiable pain-in-the-ass.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Fine the muni and set a statute if another municipal entity is caught in the future, a fine will be assessed by the state. Preemption.

    The board members should tender resignations. Idiots.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    There’s yet another irony in the lengthening of the yellow duration when the cameras are installed. It makes for inordinately long wait times. This is exactly what happened in Florida when the state began allowing the cameras a half dozen years ago.

    Lots of money rolling in until a tv station discovered a law that the yellow duration needed to be lengthened with the cameras. Once that happened, state-wide, the revenue dropped dramatically and, suddenly, with the cameras now costing money, a lot of them were pulled. Of course, they left the yellow duration alone, so waiting a long time at a red light in Florida is now the norm.

    As to what triggers a citation, better not roll or stop onto the stripe prior to the crosswalk. Yep, because if you do, you get a fine. I’ve sat across intersections and watched as an oncoming car stopped well before the crosswalk, yet hit the white stripe and got a nice photo taken. This has had the effect of vehicles stopping well prior to the stripe, sometimes as much as an entire car length.

  • avatar
    haroldingpatrick

    As a civil engineer with my PE who works for my state DOT I find this interesting. As such, I’m obviously not a lawyer, and these board members aren’t either. About the only situation I see as practicing engineering without a license is actually signing and “sealing” as a Professional Engineer when you are not.

    When I put my signature and seal on a document I’m putting my professional neck on the line, which is exactly why being a PE is generally required for infrastructure/public works type projects – If I screw up, I lose my license and also lose my ability to make a living in my profession so I better make good engineering judgements. An engineer who gets fired from Boeing can go get a job with Airbus and such. If I lose my license I’m done as anything but an entry level engineer working under a PE, who wouldn’t ever hire me to begin with because I was a screw up who lost my license.

    I only personally know one PE who was stripped of his license. He didn’t do his due diligence as an engineer while in the employ of the state, ultimately costing the good taxpayers a lot of money. He didn’t just lose his job and retirement benefits, he lost his career completely. He became a preacher by the way. . .

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yeah they just figured out a quick way to harass him back in hopes to scare him away. He was not fraudulently signing and stamping work for a customer, and he wasn’t attempting to solicit work that required a PE license. To me he was simply stating his back ground as someone who has a certain level of math and scientific understanding.

      I’m glad to hear that the fine was reversed since it was obviously retaliatory and didn’t meet the logical definition of practicing with out a license.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    I suppose the librarians at Oregon State U are also performing engineering research without a PE license. Glad this was finally resolved.

    From the early days of money-grabbing camera installations, I read a study that concluded if safety were an actual concern cities should place a squad car at the most dangerous intersections.

  • avatar
    AndyYS

    I give him credit for persisting on the engineering issue but he did lose on the original issue regarding the red light – and I think deservedly so. Why? Because it’s no secret that jurisdictions use red light cameras to raise funds in addition to the usual safety reasons. Unless there’s something blatant going on a court’s probably not going to go along with a driver’s complaint.

    • 0 avatar

      I suppose it depends on a person’s definition of “blatant”. If a city could increase the yellow intervals by one second to almost certainly reduce violation rates by 70+% and they do not do that — is that blatant?

      I and many groups like the NMA, SaferStreetsLA, MDDriversAlliance, and others think that refusal IS blatant because it traps so many safe drivers into making harmless split second violations of 0.1 to 1.0 seconds with absolutely no crash risks. (Those drivers clear the intersections during the all-red phase plus the short start up delay for the cross traffic to actually move into the intersections.)

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        And then those split-second decisions based on a photo camera presence can cause an accident. It was not an uncommon occurrence in Haines City, FL, which had a half dozen cameras on the main highway that ran through it, to see a rear-end collision at one of those redlight camera intersections when someone slammed on their brakes at the instant a green light went yellow.

        That’s the biggest fallacy of the safety aspect of redlight cameras. Yeah, they ‘might’ reduce T-bone style collisions (which is debatable), but that number is offset by an increase in rear-end collisions.

        • 0 avatar
          Kendahl

          T-bone collisions occur only if the red light runner entered the intersection well after the light turned against him. If he is only slightly late, cross traffic will not have started moving yet.

          • 0 avatar

            A study by Auburn University said violations of up to 3.5 seconds into the red had a societal cost of $0.00 because they didn’t cause crashes. It was a small study, and 3.5 might be pushing the point, but if the intersection has a reasonable all-red phase – the chances of a crash for violations up to 2.0 into the red are essentially zero. Red light cameras are a racket that requires most tickets to go to safe drivers, or the total of the fines won’t cover the high costs of the leases.

        • 0 avatar

          At least two of the annual reports in Florida showed increased crashes with cameras. The Florida Department of Transportation forbids most cities from setting properly-long yellow intervals, probably to assure the maximum number of $83 commissions the state gets on each $158 highway robbery ticket.

          • 0 avatar
            rudiger

            All of the photo citations would seem to prove that running redlights does not generally cause accidents.

            Of course, redlight photo camera companies like Optotraffic and Automated Traffic Solutions are very good at promoting and disseminating the very few (but quite dramatic) videos of redlight intersection crashes to media outlets in a very effective scare-tactic effort to promote their products. It works very well when they get just one or two crash videos on the evening news.

            But what is really aggravating is when the money stops rolling in and the redlight cameras begin costing jurisdictions big money, suddenly, the public safety, which was the original claimed justification for their installation, no longer merits their operation and they get yanked.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            If the cameras were used to ticket egregious red light runners that would be one thing. But the majority of tickets are issued, just like JWC indicated, on technical infractions with no risk of personal injury or property damage. Our state installed a $camera on a heavily trafficked road and to get the take high enough the left arrow has been reprogrammed so that when it turns off, the forward direction no longer goes green at the same time. Instead the forward light stays red for almost one second so as to grab those making the left turn for an extra ticket. I simply mash the brake – It’s your problem to avoid striking me. Unfortunately my employer now tracks our car in real time so I get “demerits” for what they consider “poor” driving. The system tracks brake pressure so I get marked up for “excessively aggressive braking”…so I keep a log in the car and document all occurrences that are defensive in nature.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    I sympathize with the guy. That said, EVERYONE in Oregon runs red lights. And speeds up at yellow lights. And bicyclists run through stop signs. Maybe it’s because pot is legal?

  • avatar
    brn

    Stories like this make me feel better about where I live. A number of years ago, red light cameras were installed as a “test”. Because it was in the test phase, violators weren’t sent a ticket. They were sent a questionnaire.

    After the year long test, the project was dismantled.

    Don’t get me wrong, those who run red lights need to be punished. They put everyone at risk. I’m just not a fan of any form of automated ticketing. Human (cop) judgement needs to be part of the equation.

    • 0 avatar

      A very high percentage of camera tickets are for violations of up to one second into the red – drivers that clear the intersections before cross traffic arrives.

      Almost all the terrible t-bone crashes are for violations several second into the red, usually 5 to 9 seconds after the light has been red.

      The two groups have virtually no overlap.

  • avatar

    Please note the dramatic videos of t-bone crashes and near misses are absolute proof the cameras did NOT prevent those crashes and near misses. Those videos, when properly considered, show the cameras are ineffective to prevent violations by drivers that are DUI, otherwise impaired, or just distracted.

  • avatar

    If red light cameras ticketed only through movement violations 2+ seconds into the red, and ticketed right on red movements only when the videos revealed a failure to yield the right of way, then no one would object.

    But the cameras would then lose so much money versus their high costs that no one would use them.

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