Beaverton, Oregon has the reputation of being one of those cities that would be more than happy to write you a traffic ticket. This reputation has only become stronger with the invention and implementation of the red light camera.
You probably know someone who has gotten a photo enforcement ticket or maybe you have received one yourself. Maybe you have privately questioned the validity of the citation, but when the wife of Beaverton resident Mats Järlström received one, he took his questions to the powers that be and got a startling result.
He Just Couldn’t Help Himself
When Mr. Järlström’s wife received her ticket in the mail, they promptly paid the $260 fine, but it got her husband thinking. The Swedish born electronics expert has a natural curiosity about how things work, and the business of red light cameras piqued that curiosity.
He started by researching the concept of red light cameras and how they are calibrated. One-third of all collisions occur at intersections and making sure that they are clear can reduce the number of accidents dramatically. The US Department of Transportation makes recommendations about the length of time a yellow light should be activated to make certain the intersection is empty before cross traffic is given the green light. Decades ago, engineers at the DOT developed a formula to be used when setting the timing of traffic lights.
Armed with this research, Mr. Järlström devised an experiment using cameras mounted on his car to test the timing of the lights in Beaverton. He discovered that yellow lights in Beaverton were activated for a shorter time than is recommended by the Department of Transportation. This practice seems distasteful as it puts more money into the Beaverton coffers. It also seems reprehensible as these profits are being made by willingly putting lives and property at risk.
He Has a License, Just Not the Right Kind
Mr. Järlström now had a story to tell and needed someone to tell it to. He was surprised and grateful to be given the opportunity to address a meeting of the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. This presentation included the details of his testing along with a simple explanation of how the numbers didn’t add up to the DOT recommendations.
There is no way of knowing what Mr. Järlström’s post-presentation expectations included, but they certainly didn’t include this. Instead of responding “Thank you for your time” or “We’ll take this under advisement,” the Board instead fined him $500 and threatened him with more fines and possible jail time if he continued in his efforts. You see, Mr. Järlström is not an Oregon state licensed engineer so, by current law, he cannot speak on topics related to engineering. It seems that Beaverton’s idea of valuing money more than common sense was born at the state level.
Thankfully, since Mr. Järlström was silenced, a non-profit law firm called the Institute for Justice has taken up his cause. They have turned one man’s simple question Into a First Amendment lawsuit. They contend that a discussion using mathematics should not be reserved solely for someone who has paid the state money for a piece of paper, especially when questionable ethics and public safety are concerned. The suit has yet to come to trial, but it will be interesting to watch in the days ahead.
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