Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tales From the Over Regulated State # 24 - Respect Our Authoritah

Does your area have those automated red light cameras that generate automatic traffic tickets if it "thinks" you've run a light?  Pushed by a handful of companies that sell the cameras as revenue streams (once they take their third - or half), they spilled into the country a decade ago.  Some had infiltrated my area at one time, but now appear to be going away.  This story, though takes place in Oregon, which is nearly as far as you can get from here and still be on the CONUS.  Reason Magazine online has the story.
When Mats Järlström's wife got snagged by one of Oregon's red light cameras in 2013, he challenged the ticket by questioning the timing of the yellow lights at intersections where cameras had been installed.

Since then, his research into red light cameras has earned him attention in local and national media—in 2014, he presented his evidence on an episode of "60 Minutes"—and an invitation to present at last year's annual meeting of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

It also got him a $500 fine from the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.

According to the board, Järlström's research into red light cameras and their effectiveness amounts to practicing engineering without a license. No, really. Järlström had sent a letter to the board in 2014 asking for the opportunity to present his research on how too-short yellow lights were making money for the state by putting the public's safety at risk. "I would like to present these fact for your review and comment," he wrote.
Are you familiar with the term PE, or Professional Engineer?  In some disciplines of engineering, notably civil engineering, state governments started regulating who may design or sign documents accepting responsibility for designs.  Wyoming appears to have been the first, in 1907.  As an electrical engineer designing products for a few military and commercial suppliers, I've never needed to apply for a PE, so I never went through the process, but it's required in certain areas.  For example, if someone is going to design a house, a PE must sign off on the drawings for the building inspectors.  I like to think of it this way:
That may seem like I'm making fun of PEs, but I'm not.  I'm making fun of the bureaucrats who think having a PE sign drawings will keep bad things from happening.

In this case, the Oregon State Board is saying that because Järlström doesn't have their blessing, he not only isn't allowed to look at their designs, it's illegal for him to do so.  Järlström has sued the state, as you might expect, and is being aided by the Institute for Justice.
"Criticizing the government's engineering isn't a crime; it's a constitutional right," said Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, in a statement. "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."
It turns out the reliably leftist utopia of Oregon guards their authority over engineering quite jealously.  The board
investigated a Republican gubernatorial candidate for using the phrase "I'm an engineer and a problem-solver" in a campaign ad. The candidate in question, Allen Alley, had a degree in engineering from Purdue University and worked as an engineer for Boeing (and, of course, wasn't trying to lie about his lack of an Oregon-issued licensed but merely was making a freaking campaign ad), but

It doesn't stop there. In 2010, the state board issued a $1,000 fine for illegally practicing engineering to a local activist who told the La Pine, Oregon, city council that a proposed new power plant would be too loud for nearby residents.

The board once investigated Portland Monthly magazine for running a story that described a young immigrant woman as "an engineer behind Portland's newest bridge." The woman in the story did not describe herself as an engineer, but the magazine's editors included that description in the headline, the board concluded.
In Järlström's case, what he did was what thousands of other engineers or techno geeks have done.  He looked at the design for how long lights remained yellow, found it was outdated so he figured out how to make it work better.  In stories like this, someone finds a better way, starts a company and sometimes even becomes the next Gates, or Woz or Musk.  But not in Glorious Peoples' Republic of Portlandia.  In Portlandia, it got him fined. 
He did a little Googling and found the formula used to set traffic-light times. The length of time a traffic light stays yellow is based on a relatively straightforward mathematical formula, originally drafted in 1959. Mats realized that the formula is incomplete, because it fails to capture the behavior of drivers making right turns. After developing a modified formula and even corresponding with one of the formula’s original creators, Mats started to reach out to others in the scientific community, government officials, and the media.
It's truly a ridiculous case.  The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying said  “critiquing” the length of yellow lights and talking about his ideas with “members of the public” made Mats a lawbreaker because he’s not an Oregon-licensed professional engineer.  They also told Mats that he couldn’t refer to himself using the word “engineer” either.  Järlström actually is an engineer by degree from Sweden, and has held various problem-solving jobs that go with that training, he just doesn't have the state's blessings. 

It may be ridiculous, but it's classic leftist elitism.  Much like how blessings from the wise and wonderful state magically grant "The Only Ones" in law enforcement the ability to always handle firearms with near-infinite wisdom and safety, the board is saying only their blessings in the form of their PE license magically allow thinking.   


  1. Remember the terrorist (lone wolf) attack at Umpqua Community College a few years back? I got my Registered Nurse degree there, graduating in 2000 and getting my RN license from the Oregon State Board of Nursing shortly after graduation. (BTW, I carried my G30 every day in classes, sitting right up in front. Completely legal [if you had your CCW permit], but I would have been expelled if they had known.)

    The OR Board of Nursing was just about as ridiculous in the lengths they went to control your every move and every job you took in that state. They could (and would) pull your license for any little infraction of regulations most of us had never even heard about, let alone been taught or trained on. When I went to work for the VA medical center in Roseburg, federal law and regulations superseded OR state law on practice, but there were still some areas where the state would fine and/or yank your license if you went counter to their directives.

    Oregon was governed by a bunch of old hippies left over from Haight-Ashbury and communes in CA and OR, and now they are ruled by the children of those old hippies - sortr of like Bernie's grandchildren. We left in 2008, and as beautiful as that state is, we don't miss living there.

  2. How dare he question the "state?" Who does this deplorable think he is? You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!

    These Oregon clowns don't know the difference between a sovereign individual using his God given noodle and common sense to ferret out the mistakes of the "state" and deliver justice, which the clowns have no interest in whatsoever.

    And then there is the issue of lack of respect for anyone not bearing the certification of PE. Only 20% of engineers are licensed and about 70% of those are CE's. Out of some 2 million plus engineers in the US, how many live and work in Oregon? I don't know but I wonder how many of the people on this esteemed (/sarc) Board of Examiners is actually a PE. Ref:

  3. I've seen news reports where towns are removing the cameras, because having successfully reduced the red light running safety problem they were justified with, the revenue stream decreased and they didn't want to maintain them anymore.

    Government itself is the problem. The very concept of allowing any group, to declare themselves to have a monopoly on anything, is the problem.

  4. Many states have laws that say if you are not a Professional Engineer by their standards you may not even do the math involved with those calculations except if you are a teacher (yet another "licensed" profession). Only the Elite my rule! NOT!

  5. I think that the 'deep state' is slowly having its fangs painfully pulled by the Trump Administration. However in places (I'm thinking of California, where I live for the time being), the push back is very strong. As the other comments state, government monopolies are wrong at every possible level. Standards are good (Regulations make things regular), but everything seems to be taken to an absurd degree now.

    1. I think that the 'deep state' is slowly having its fangs painfully pulled by the Trump Administration.

      Based on what observed evidence? Here is some evidence I observe: Federal layoffs: zero. Federal departments disbanded: zero. Budget reductions: zero. Medical monopolies broken up: zero. Central planning of trade across borders removed: zero. Presidential admission of the national bankruptcy points Denninger makes: zero.

      The Democrats in the press are whining more loudly now because half the voters are primed to respond to the whining. The increased whining doesn't have to be caused by a reduction in liberal power.

  6. There are reasons for some of the regulations around being a PE. In every state and nationally, there are ramifications to calling yourself an Engineer in certain legal situations.
    I've heard this situation mentioned several times, but without enough detail to know whether he met the standard threshold for requiring a PE (I am a PE, but am not familiar with Oregon's rules).
    Did they go overboard? Probably. Did they have reason to investigate the situation? Probably.
    From what I have read elsewhere, he used specific words like 'as an engineer' and 'in my experience as a software engineer'. If he did so in a discussion of traffic light timing, in any state he would get in trouble for practicing outside of his area of expertise, and they probably tacked on being unlicensed to that as well. I suspect that if he had not referenced being and engineer in his communications to the state, the whole issue would never have come up.