Does Having a License Make You an Engineer?

In Oregon, a consultant was fined for claiming he has expertise

8 June 2017

Mats Järlström has been researching traffic-signal timing intervals ever since his wife was caught running a red light by a traffic camera in 2013. His calculations suggest that at certain intersections the timing of yellow lights isn’t long enough.

Järlström, who says he has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Sweden but not a state-issued engineering license, is a self-employed consultant who tests audio products and repairs, upgrades, and calibrates test instruments.

According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, Järlström discussed his theory with “60 Minutes,” a local TV station, a sheriff, and a leading authority on traffic-light technology. He was invited to address the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

The Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying said Järlström practiced engineering without a license each time he critiqued the traffic-light system and identified himself as an engineer in correspondence. The board, a semi-independent panel whose members are appointed by the governor, funds itself through licensing and registration fees. The licensing board said that without an engineering license from the state, Järlström broke the law if he even referred to himself using the word engineer.

After a two-year investigation, the state in January fined him US $500 for “applying special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences to such creative work as investigation, evaluation, and design in connection with public equipment, processes, and works. Järlström thereby engaged in the practice of engineering” under state law.

After paying the fine, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the licensing board, accusing it of violating his First Amendment rights. He says the Constitution allows him to criticize the camera formula and to call himself—accurately, in his view—an engineer.

The Institute for Justice, a U.S. nonprofit libertarian public-interest law firm, is representing Järlström, challenging the vague definition of what constitutes a professional engineer in Oregon. A federal judge recently ruled that Järlström could temporarily call himself an engineer while the litigation is pending.

Do you side with Järlström or the licensing board?

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