Question authority and the authorities will question you

There’s another story in the news about engineering authorities reacting badly to dissent.

An Oregon man wants to stop the right turn trap. That’s the misuse of signal timing rules meant for straight through movements to make lights change too quickly for turning traffic. That trap is profitable when red light cameras are watching.

Some people want to hear what he has to say. Not Oregon’s engineering regulators, who responded to his letter with a $500 fine for practicing engineering without a license.

I don’t know if he’s technically guilty or not. I do know that this isn’t the sort of charge you get hit with if you don’t make waves.

A professional engineer I know filed a complaint against a man who was actually practicing engineering without a license, not just writing a letter to state authorities. The state dropped the case. Maybe they thought he knew what he was doing and just didn’t have the permit to do it. He may have been “one of the boys” with connections. But he was doing what the law is meant to prohibit, not exercising his right to petition government.

Another case a few years ago in North Carolina also warned not to disagree with state engineers if you can prove they are wrong. If you say “that intersection doesn’t need a light” they can be condescending and tell you respect your betters. If you say “the facts show this intersection doesn’t need a light…”

A resident who may or may not be David Cox, Ph.D. did that. He submitted a detailed analysis of why a proposed traffic signal was wrong.

What followed reminded me of a line from “Alice’s Restaurant.” Young Arlo Guthrie confessed to the crime of littering. He figured the police would either thank him for his honesty or yell at him and make him pick up the garbage. “But when we got to the police officer’s station there was a third possibility that we hadn’t even counted upon, and we was both immediately arrested.”

The state engineers could have said “I guess you’re right” or “we disagree”. But there was a third possibility. A state engineer filed a complaint about unlicensed practice of engineering.

Charges were dropped because nobody confessed to the crime of dissent. They couldn’t prove who wrote the document challenging the infallibility of DOT engineers. They knew, but they couldn’t prove it.

If only this enthusiasm were applied to prosecution of people who recommend unnecessary signs and signals. I know a few cases in my area where unlicensed people pretending to be engineers made the call.

But nobody wants to protect the public from bad traffic engineering.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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