Yellow light ‘vindication’: Rule rewrite coming in 2020


Mats Järlström spent 6 years on this project

BEAVERTON, Ore. (KOIN) — Drivers getting tickets for running red lights while turning may be getting some relief beginning next year.

The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) said it will take into early 2020 to rewrite the equation for determining the duration of yellow lights. The change comes after the international organization that sets traffic control guidelines declared a Beaverton man’s years of research is correct: some drivers are getting caught in a no man’s land and are running red lights they can’t avoid.

“I feel totally vindicated here,” Järlström told KOIN 6 News Thursday after getting the news his 6 years of being ignored, ridiculed, even fined over his research paid off in victory. ​

“The existing Kinematic Equation does not fully cover several dilemma-zone situations for left-turn and right-turn movements,” concluded an ITE panel of traffic experts. “The Panel suggests that this item be properly reconsidered by ITE.”​

Whether his win will result in cities like Beaverton, Portland and Salem reprogramming red light cameras is unclear. ​

“Not directly,” said Jeff Lindley, the Associate Executive Director and Chief Technical Officer for ITE. “We provide guidelines to professionals how to time the lights. It’s a related issue.”​

The ITE panel cautioned about directly tying changes in yellow light length to red light running under a new formula.​

“Change intervals are not designed to directly correlate with the exact requirements of red light cameras,” wrote the panel. “Separate guidance on specific enforcement tolerances should be provided based on further study…”​

Järlström took his research to the panel of traffic experts for ITE earlier this year. He lost the first round, but won on appeal. ​

Lindley said ITE staff will take Jarlstrom’s research into account when rewriting the formula. ​​

“This is a tremendous amount of work I put into this and the impact this will have for everyone in the world, it’s going to be dramatic,” said Järlström. “The yellow lights are too short in the US.”​​

The Swedish-born electronics engineer embarked on his mission in 2013 after his wife got a ticket for running a red light in Beaverton. ​

He took his research to the City of Beaverton where he received a chilly reception. He took his concerns to the Oregon Department of Transportation and other agencies without any luck. Most entities responded that they follow best practices determined by ITE. ​​

Järlström forged ahead and got a big victory several years ago when Professor Alexei Maradudin — one of the engineers who wrote the original formula used to determine the duration of yellow lights — told ITE his 1959 equation was never meant to regulate vehicles making turns. ​​

In this latest victory, Järlström got another satisfying congratulation.​ “Good news indeed! I am happy for you,” wrote Maradudin in an email. “It has been a long process, but science wins in the end.”​​

Järlström faced fines from Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering, which accused him of practicing engineering without a license for trying to share his research. After getting free legal help from The Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., he won a federal lawsuit allowing him to talk about his findings. ​

Järlström will now continue his work on a research paper to further explain his findings.​

“We need to add some extra time, for tolerances for human behavior,” said Järlström. “We’re not perfect. We need to be given more leeway to allow people to stop and go.”​​

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