back to article 'I feel violated': Engineer who pointed out traffic signals flaw fined for 'unlicensed engineering'

Last year, Mats Järlström was fined $500 for revealing troubling flaws in the mathematical formula used to govern the timing of US traffic lights. Järlström, a Swedish electronics engineer who has lived in America for more than two decades, realized there was a design fault in traffic systems after his wife got a ticket from …

Actually, Oregon, remarkably appropriate given the subject!

Or had you missed the fact that Linus moved?

(Also, worth noting that Linus was explicitly and deliberately cloning a thing created in New Jersey and significantly refined in California, in case you've forgotten about AT&T Bell Labs and UCB).

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You do know that Linus is a US citizen living in Dunthorpe, Oregon ? Oh wait you didn't and just made a stupid assumption with no research.

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Anonymous Coward

"US state of Finland"

Don't tell the Orange One that it's president is someone else, not him, or he might try to do something about it ...

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Headmaster

Engineering?

Looks like Applied Maths to me. It's hardly "engineering" by any sane standard.

Start with a simple d = vt equation, take safe-braking distances and reaction times from the Rules of the Road (or US equivalent) to find the deceleration curve, graph it out in t and v, then do piecewise-integration (calculate area of some rectangles and a triangle and add them up) to find total distance travelled dT. Calculate the length of the journey between passing the traffic light and leaving the intersection as one quarter of the circumference of the intersection dI (or consider it to be two legs at a right angle, to be on the safe side) and show that dT - dI, which is the furthest you can be from the intersection in order to safely traverse it, is greater than 0.

The only "engineery" thing here is measuring how big the intersection is, but he could do that with OS maps.

Disclaimer: I am not an engineer!

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Re: Engineering?

Addendum: The above assumes that you want to be at a full stop immediately after leaving the intersection. Not very practical, but at least you shouldn't get a ticket for breaking a red light.

Yer man's argument may be just that, from what I gather from a re-read of the article. If you don't aim to have v=0 at the exit point, but instead decelerate down to some minimum speed and then maintain that through the intersection, you obviously travel further in the same amount of time. Same idea, just different piecewise integration:

◼◣

◼◼◼

Columns are for reaction time, constant deceleration and constant exit speed. There are a couple of extra variables (final speed and how long you will travel at this speed, the product of which tells you the distance from the exit to where you will stop your deceleration), but if you set that product to be half the distance through the intersection, then you should be safely in control of the car and not trying to brake and turn at the same time.

As before, calculating dT is simply adding up the areas of the rectangles and the triangle, so it's still basic trigonometry.

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Pint

Oregon, where Pi = 3.0

Barkeep, why is there a huge chunk missing out of the side of my glass??

Sorry sir, it was made in Oregon.

Nuff said.

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Heard about this....

This is NORMAL for Oregon State... Spend any time in Portland and Eugene (home of the inept Leftist/Liberals), and you will KNOW that there is something wrong here...

PDX in particular has homeless tents decorating the I-84 corridor close to I-5 and drunks asking for money around the MODA CENTER... this is tolerated.

But when someone with a brain steps up to cite a flaw in a traffic signal design from the 1950's... Get fined. Typical.

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Re: Heard about this....

I quite agree being in deep southern Oregon myself... unfortunately close that down state haven for wackos of all ilks, Ashland. Go to Eugene and points north and it's la-la land for sure. I keep hoping that the Feds will allow downstate Oregon and upstate Caliornia to secede from their states and merge as many people want. They even have a name planned.. the State of Jefferson.

Addendum... the panhandlers are a "protected" species it seems. I can't remember not seeing them at every intersection in the state.

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Thumb Up

Any certified Oregon Engineers out there?

Step up and file this on his behalf?

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Re: Any certified Oregon Engineers out there?

Dont worry - Trump will probably realise that those doing the chartering are in fact running a union and build a wall round them, If he can get someone qualified to build a wall. They'd need to be chartered by a union too..

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WTF?

Would I be wrong..

In assuming that Oregon are a state that largely voted for Trump?

(And yes, it is totally an assumption on my part based on the stupidity of the law/application thereof)

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Re: Would I be wrong..

Actually, yeah, you would. Oregon is in the Pacific Northwest (just south of Washington state), typically one of the most 'liberal' (in US parlance) parts of the country. Its major city is Portland - the one that Portlandia is about.

It's not *quite* so simple because if you get out east into inland areas of any PNW region, things can get a bit bible-bash-y. But I doubt those folks have a lot do with the state's board of engineers or whatever they call themselves.

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Re: Would I be wrong..

@Kiwi - The left coast (CA, OR, WA) voted for Hildafelon not Blowhard.

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Re: Would I be wrong..

"Hildafelon"

Look: you may not like her, or what she stands for, but she is not a felon, and has not been charged with any felonies.

I'm extremely tired of hearing this crap. She's a politician. They're not paragons of virtue. But I suggest to you that our current President is in far more jeopardy of wearing that label then Mrs. Clinton ever was.

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Anonymous Coward

Huge mistake on his part to pay the fine

Unless there was actually something he did wrong, such as signing his emails with a protected title, then he was dumb dumb dumb to pay the fine levied by the Engineering organization.

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Anonymous Coward

America, land of the free...

...to STFU and do as you're told.

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I'm registered as a Professional Engineer in a US state that nominally restricts the term - not that it matters in our field, all of my colleagues advertise themselves as engineers but the reality is I do not work in a regulated field (software) so the state board leaves us alone. I only got the license because I wanted to have it for personal, family legacy reasons.

However, I do think prior comments have incorrectly trivialized what it means to be a registered Engineer. This is my state but throughout the US it is similar. Getting a PE certificate involves:

- having an accredited engineering degree, non-engineering degree plus some years of experience, or no degree and ~20 years of experience;

- taking a general knowledge-based exam covering general topics like physics, math, materials, civil engineering, electrical generation, and so on;

- working as an engineer-in-training for at least four years, with consistently increasing responsibility;

- getting personal and character references from other professional engineers and community members;

- taking an experience-based exam that covers a variety of topics across disciplines (when I took it about half the applicants passed);

- paying your fees, nominally the board has to approve but I think it is rubber stamped once you've met the above.

- renewing annually, which includes recording at least 15 hours of continuing education directly related to your field of discipline.

Finally, professional engineers sign off that they swear to protect the health and welfare of the community above their own gain or corporate interests, and are subject to discipline by the engineering board for a variety of offenses above and beyond legal issues.

Professional engineers started getting licensed around the country because unqualified people started building bridges, mostly. People literally died, politicians contracting for roads and buildings started asking "how can I be sure this builder knows what he is doing, takes his work seriously, is more interested in my safety than his bottom line?"

For several reasons I don't want software engineering to require registration, but I suspect that these questions will resurface after a few more Toyota brake incidents, or to put it another way as software starts to kill people more frequently.

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paying your fees

*****************

key words there

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"- getting personal and character references from other professional engineers..."

I have to wonder... How did the first engineer get his certification with this requirement in place?

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People literally died, politicians contracting for roads and buildings started asking "how can I be sure this builder knows what he is doing, takes his work seriously, is more interested in my safety than his bottom line?"

Surely we can trust that market forces will take of this without burdensome red tape? What's next? Government telling me that I have to follow some "Code" when I build a house, or need to remove my sewage to somewhere other than the next town's water supply?

The Oregon story is idiotic, but it's also pretty imbecilic to argue against the idea that only qualified Engineers should be trusted to build bridges and dams.

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Anonymous Coward

I only got the license because I wanted to have it for personal, family legacy reasons.

That's all OK, and I do understand the reasoning behind this: it is to assure that you don't get unqualified idiots taking on projects beyond their competence (unlike, say, running the country as its president). That is not the issue.

The issue is that the State decides to attempt a Donald Trump on the problem by focusing on an irrelevant side show in a fairly transparent and desperate attempt to divert the attention from a potentially rather large liability.

The fun part is that that specific action shows just how dumb these people are. The way they tried to divert the attention has instead sent up Streisand Effect size flare as this fine will be fought in court, thus drawing more attention rather than less. I am willing to bet that there is already a large circle of lawyers converging on the place like vultures circling an unmoving carcass.

Pardon me, be right back, I have to stock up on snacks for this one..

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@Barry Rueger - The idea behind building codes and PE licensing is without them it is too easy for an incompetent to design and build a structure that is not capable of withstanding the loads it will see in normal service. With both, there are standards of a sort to verify either it is built correctly or the person signing off on the design has the knowledge and competence to do so. Remember, if building, bridge, or dam collapses often there are many innocent dead.

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Re: "the first engineer"

The first Engineers got their references from their p.e. colleagues, after that you had to ask your P.E. colleagues.

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Anonymous Coward

I have to say, it pisses me off that any workman with a spanner seems to be called an engineer in the U.K. Apparently SKY has a whole team of engineers to install your modem.

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His bridges didn't fall down within a reasonable period of time.

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but I suspect that these questions will resurface after a few more Toyota brake incidents, or to put it another way as software starts to kill people more frequently.

I had not heard of this. However, if it's as I expect it's not a software engineering fault but a mechanical engineering/design fault. IF it is a matter of the brakes not coming on when they should, even when the pedal is pressed, because some idiot thought it'd be fun to remove the mechanical linkages from the system, then that is NOT software. That is sheer stupidity. Have "assist" and automatic braking etc, sure, that's fine. But make sure that the brake pedal/steering wheel etc DIRECTLY link up to the device they're supposed to, and have the driver's controls have final say (realise that if the driver falls asleep or has a medical problem and is slumped over the wheel this could be an issue, but it seems more common for the computer to make a mistake that causes a problem then for this to happen!).

Course, I could be wrong on this having not heard of the Toyota brake issues.

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Toyota? Brakes, or "uncommanded acceleration"?

"professional engineers sign off that they swear to protect the health and welfare of the community above their own gain or corporate interests, and are subject to discipline by the engineering board for a variety of offenses above and beyond legal issues."

And exactly what effect does that have?

Three decades of IEE/IET membership here, regular reader of the monthly news, and this month I have for the first time seen a report of a complaint against a member who had an alleged conflict of interest. No real details were provided about the complaint, and I can't remember the result. It involved fracking.

"these questions will resurface after a few more Toyota brake incidents, or to put it another way as software starts to kill people more frequently"

Re Toyota specifically: Do you mean braking, or do you mean "uncommanded acceleration" or, as it is sometimes known, "unintended acceleration"?

Either way, some of the following may be enlightening:

There was a $1billion penalty payable by Toyota US in order to shut down a criminal investigation into the design of their engine control (and related) systems. NB this wasn't a penalty for criminally bad design (of hardware AND software), it was a payment to shut down a criminal investigation:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/toyota-reaches-12-billion-settlement-to-end-criminal-probe/2014/03/19/5738a3c4-af69-11e3-9627-c65021d6d572_story.html

In the court case which ultimately led to the $billion settlement (Bookout v Toyota Motor), evidence emerged to suggest that Toyota's design practices (hardware and software) for safety critical control systems left a great deal to be desired.

Short version: http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1319903

More detailed version from Prof Phil Koopman at CMU who was an expert witness at the trial:

https://users.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/pubs/koopman14_toyota_ua_slides.pdf

Share and enjoy. Plenty more where those two came from.

I used to work in safety critical software and systems for what in recent decades has been a very safe form of public transport. I don't work there any more. The safety record of the last few decades is so good that 'management' are using the 'overengineered' excuse to justify massively reducing money spent on methods, analysis and testing, which is bad enough in itself, and also using it to justify the use of inappropriate design practices. It'll end in tears.

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"How did the first engineer get his certification with this requirement in place?"

His reputation was enough.

Also, he wrote the requirements.

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Again, they are not Chartered Engineers who pay a fair bit to call themselves that. Sky engineers are at best technicians and there is nothing wrong with that.

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paying your fees

Fees paid to professional organisations both in the UK and America go towards all sorts of things besides coffee and donuts for the admin staff.

I'd talk about lobbying efforts and legal work to defend the rights and roles of the membership but I'd be wasting my breath.

I mean, how do you think old boy's get networked FFS?

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Re: Toyota? Brakes, or "uncommanded acceleration"?

Yeah, I remember these stories, along with the elaborate, cruiser-wrecking "rescues" the NY police forces enacted.

I always found myself asking "Why didn't anyone suggest turning off the ignition?" but then realized that in some cars that can cause the steering lock to be engaged (some cars have the "aux power" key position AFTER the "lock steering" one - something which should have been fixed by engineers or by law years ago).

Superdeluxemobiles have a push-button ignition switch so that is no longer a concern (or is it? I dunno).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Toyota? Brakes, or "uncommanded acceleration"?

"I remember these stories,"

Not properly, you don't.

There may be issues with individual drivers, and there may even be issues with floor mats in some reported cases, but if you look at the engineering source material, e.g. as reported in EE Times with plenty of references elsewhere as time went by (but obviously not *enough* references), there were *defective by design* safety-critical issues with the hardware and software in the cars involved. Toyota paid $1bn or so to stop the criminal investigation.

Reminder:

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1319903

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/toyota-reaches-12-billion-settlement-to-end-criminal-probe/2014/03/19/5738a3c4-af69-11e3-9627-c65021d6d572_story.html

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Optional

So I read the legal decision, not just the article.

There's a reasonable argument, at least, for regulating some specific status like "chartered engineer", as several other commenters have claimed. But indeed Oregon doesn't seem to do that - the bits of the code cited can be read as covering just the word "engineer", and the judgment actually seems to do so (by finding that he was in violation of it by calling himself a "Swedish engineer" and an "excellent engineer"). Which is pretty ballsy and difficult to defend in a world where most places don't do that.

But that's not even the worst part. The worst part (to me) is the definition of engineering itself:

"( 1) "Practice of engineering" or "practice of professional engineering" means

doing any of the following:

(a) Performing any professional service or creative work requiring

engineering education, training and experience.

(b) Applying special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and

engineering sciences to such professional services or creative work as

consultation, investigation, testimony, evaluation, planning, design and

services during construction, manufacture or fabrication for the purpose of

ensuring compliance with specifications and design, in connection with any

public or private utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment,

processes, works or projects * * * *."

That seems to be stating - and the board certainly seems to be interpreting it as stating - that you don't actually have to be performing any practical *work* to be 'practicing engineering'. You just have to be involved in some sort of "creative work", i.e., thinking about stuff and writing it down.

There's an exemption mentioned later on which exempts you if you don't offer your work to the public, but that's still patently absurd. It seems like basically anyone who thinks about traffic light timings and writes their thoughts on a comment thread, or forum, or Facebook post or something, would be in violation of this ridiculous rule. And it's pretty hard to see how *that's* not a clear violation of the First Amendment.

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Re: Optional

>And it's pretty hard to see how *that's* not a clear violation of the First Amendment.

The reason why this law still exists is because nobody's seen fit (or stumped up the cash) to challenge it. That's the way the US works -- people pass all sorts of outrageous legislation which eventually gets trimmed by the courts. If you're lucky.

They're not the only place that has this sort of stuff in place (apparently being a 'software engineer' in Texas is a no-no). The best thing to do is to move somewhere which is a bit more enlightened.

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Technical Definition of job title

Technician - Knows what to do.

Engineer - Knows why you're doing it.

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Re: Technical Definition of job title

Gadgeteer: Sorta knows what they're doing, sorta knows why they're doing it, and more than familiar with the thrilling kiss of 110/220 volts from when they overstepped their boundaries.

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Re: Technical Definition of job title

and more than familiar with the thrilling kiss of 110/220 volts from when they overstepped their boundaries.

[channelling Apu]Ahh, the sweet kiss of hot leadvolts!

Have taken a few bolts in the KV ranges. Highest I think from a CRT of IIRC a Philips K9; I was quite sick with a 'flu, reached in and grabbed the anode cap on the back of the tube - only due to head being stuffed with cold I forgot to discharge it! (May not've been a K9, 21" or 26" older CRT TV, had a metal chassis that gave a nice "exit" for the volts about the area of my wrist). Have had plenty of shocking experiences while working with electric fences.

But my most memorable was my first "housecall" TV repair.. My own home. Was sitting down working on the tv (with it unplugged) while Mum was cooking dinner. Got up, went to the toilet. Came back, reached in to unplug a cable, got thrown. Mum had gone in to the lounge seen the TV unplugged, plugged it back in, realised the potatoes were boiling over (or something like that) so went back into the kitchen. I didn't even think to re-check the mains plug. Now, some 30 years later, I visually check the plug before handling something I expect to NOT be live, and always treat it as live anyway.

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Career...

So, over forty years, I've:

- started as a trainee engineer with three years of on-the-job and formal training

- held the posts of engineer, senior engineer, and engineer-in-charge

- been a project manager

- and for the last few years I've been doing embedded hardware and software engineering

Yes, I've got graduate and post-graduate degrees (in maths and computing) - but none of those posts relied on them; most of my career was in broadcasting. And I was never a chartered engineer, though a number of previous bosses have offered to sponsor me.

When I started out, I couldn't even spell 'enginner' and now I are one. Except in Oregon, it seems.

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Coat

So I guess he's been on

Beaverton Patrol

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Fined for pointing out someone else's mistakes.

Quick - find something to fine him for in the vain hope that he will stop and go away.

Rather than the way it should be - OK, so you think something is wrong, lets investigate and make things better.

Except, in this case, presumably they make a big pile of money from the traffic fines that are made from the dodgy logic, so using some more dodgy logic to fine him fits in just perfectly with their thinking.

Add my vote to the mandatory opening up of all algorithms so that people can spot the logic errors.

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Trollface

Re: Fined for pointing out someone else's mistakes.

Add my vote to the mandatory opening up of all algorithms so that people can spot the logic errors.

There's one "logic error" with your idea. I bet that people would see how much their algorithms are geared towards generating revenue rather than towards saving lives. Those who survive the shock would probably be lynching the contents of shcity hall within a few minutes.

Hence they'd much rather you didn't know. And if you were to see the algorithms, so would you.

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You know another shitty part? If he's a Permanent Resident, this kinda crap even can get him expelled due to the rules on Permanent Residency in the US of A. So don't count out Malice at this point either.

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Oregon is weird

You can't pump your own gas in Oregon, it must be pumped by an attendant. Except between certain hours at gas stations a certain distance from populated areas civilization. The attendants don't clean your windshield or check your oil, and they hold down the lever 'til the gas runs down your fender, trying to get your purchase up to the next full dollar. New Jersey has the same stupid law, but they elected Chris ("Donuts") Christie, so what can you expect?

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$5000 fine for former Inst of Engineers Ontario

Let's say you graduate from an engineering program, become licensed with Inst of Engineers Ontario for a few years, then change occupation and let membership lapse, If you say you were a member that's a $5,000 fine.

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Windows

I'll skip the rant about Engineering certification and licensing that this story fairly raves about. Where does "Sanitation Engineer" and "Custodial Engineer" fall on this spectrum of Engineering? I use those terms just to point out that calling someone an engineer does not mean they can "engineer" a product, a process, or even a piece of equipment.

Even with a degree, the title itself does not confer power or wisdom. As in any other field of endeavor, Engineering has a long history and tradition of getting things done. However, over the last 30 years that has become just a little bit different, especially in large organizations. What do you call an "engineer" who neither designs nor specs designs for or by a contractor? What do you call an engineer who never actually visits a job site wherein the product designs specified or approved by that engineer are being installed?

I'd like to call that person a deadbeat, but if that is all they have to do to meet the employer's requirements, then that would not be fair.

So I will just call them a Tool.

Funny, isn't it that a person who should be designing tools and equipment will end up being both a useless tool and a waste of company money and time.

With very few repercussions.

Oops, I said I'd skip that rant.

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Anonymous Coward

A title is ... required but misleading

Two of the most dangerous (in any sense of the word) managers I have ever worked near worked for the same well known company and had for some reason been awarded the title Fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

If anyone is aware of a way to challenge such a title, based on *engineering* matters, I'd be delighted to hear of it.

"What do you call an engineer who never actually visits a job site wherein the product designs specified or approved by that engineer are being installed?"

Senior management? "Thought leader"? Risk to public safety?

I've seen all three (in one person :().

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A title is ... required but misleading

To make a complaint against a member of the Institute of Engineering & Technology follow their handy guide

http://www.theiet.org/about/governance/rules-conduct/complaints.cfm

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Anonymous Coward

Kind of ironic when you consider it's the HQ of Tektronix...

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Anonymous Coward

From the description it sounds like the fundemental problem is the law penalizes a driver from being in the junction on a red light (hence the discussion on needing extra time if turning to allow for slowing down) as opposed to the UK rule where the offence is crossing the stop line on a red light - that way there's only one calculation - time to stop at the line.

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Orv
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In most states it's crossing the stop line. I don't know about Oregon specifically. What really catches people is red light cameras will nail you for making a right-on-red without stopping first - which is legally required, important for pedestrian safety, but rarely enforced by cops.

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