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Oregon Engineer’s Yellow Light Theory Get the Green Light

After winning his First Amendment right to challenge the timing of yellow lights in court, now Mats Jarlstrom—along with a team of others—has also convinced the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) to reevaluate its guidelines for the timing of traffic signals.

In 2017, the Institute for Justice (IJ) partnered with Mats to file a lawsuit after he was fined $500 by the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying for publicly suggesting that yellow lights should last for slightly longer to accommodate cars making right turns. Two years later, citing the engineering board’s “history of overzealous enforcement actions,” a federal judge entered a permanent injunction securing Mats’s rights to speak freely about his traffic-light theories. The court also invalidated Oregon’s restriction on the title “engineer” as “substantially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.”

With that injunction in place, Mats continued to research, write, and talk about his theory that yellow lights are too short for drivers to safely make turns through an intersection (and avoid getting red light camera tickets). This year, Mats teamed up with a group of drivers advocates, engineers, and others to formally challenge the 54-year-old guidance governing the timing of traffic lights. This summer, the ITE agreed to convene an expert panel where Mats and others testified. And late last month the panel returned its findings to the ITE: It found that the current equation for yellow light timing should be reconsidered.

“The First Amendment protects Americans right to speak regardless of whether they are right or wrong,” said Sam Gedge, an attorney at IJ, which represented Mats. “But in Mats’ case, the ITE committee’s decision suggests that he not only has a right to speak, but also, that he was right all along.”

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