Oregon Tried To Quash His Research, But it’s Now Featured in International Guidelines

  Within six years, Mats Järlström moved from fighting his wife’s Beaverton traffic ticket to having his research featured in The Institute of Traffic Engineers’ new guidelines for yellow and red traffic light timing.  

He could tell the City of Beaverton, “I told you so.” After all, he testified to the Beaverton City council multiple times, received a $500 fine from the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, and engaged in a lengthy Federal court battle to fight for his right to present his research.  

In 2014, His wife was caught on camera running a red light in Beaverton. Järlström used his background in electrical engineering, an ODOT-published formula, and what he calls “eighth-grade level mathematics” to make a case against his wife’s traffic ticket. His case was that the transition between yellow and red lights was too fast for the speed limit and road conditions.   

HERE’S HOW HE PROVED IT: Järlström calculated what he considered the correct timing for yellow lights based on a formula published by ODOT that factors in the speed limit. His wife was driving in a 40 MPH zone on a downward sloping road. According to the ODOT formula, that yellow light should have lasted 4.4 seconds. But it only lasted 4 seconds. A .3 second difference potentially was enough to put the driver in a “dilemma zone” where they might not be able to safely stop soon enough, so they run the red light.  

CITY GETS HUSH-HUSH: Järlström had a degree in electrical engineering from his native country Sweden. Before immigrating to the US in 1992, he gained experience from various technical jobs and time in the Swedish Air Force, according to Reason.com.  

He took this information to the Beaverton City Council. Four months later, the city changed that light’s timing to 4.5 seconds, according to a TV news segment by KOIN. KOIN also reported that the city didn’t acknowledge the change to the public or to Järlström.  

FOUGHT STATE AGENCY VENGENCE: Järlström said he wrote to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying seeking an opportunity to present his research. Instead of an invitation, he received a $500 fine for practicing engineering without a license. He fought it in Federal Court and the board conceded that they violated his rights, as reported by the Oregonian  

The new guidelines issued by The Institute of Traffic Engineers include an article titled, An Explanation of Mats Järlström’s Extended Kinematic Equation   

“The guidelines set forth in the report were carefully considered and analyzed,” said Jeffrey F. Paniati, P.E., Executive Director and CEO of ITE. “With input from leading industry professionals and the public, we have produced a set of guidelines based on the best available knowledge and are designed to safely accommodate all users.”