Local news stories dealing with car culture are usually one of two things: unintentionally hilarious or painfully awkward. This morning I discovered a third category: downright dangerous. Recently, WBNS-10TV in central Ohio has been on it with reports on street racing, claiming it’s a plague hurting local communities. And for some reason, the station has been using a clip of me driving my Fiat 500 Abarth down the street at the speed limit as an example for viewers.
Update: After publishing this story, we learned that the black Fiat 500 Abarth in question was not the one owned by writer Kevin Williams, but an extremely similar Fiat 500 Abarth that belongs to Brenden Berg. Given that the video was filmed at a place where Kevin was recently, and the remarkably similar design of the car, we incorrectly assumed the Abarth was that of the author; The Drive regrets the error.
Additionally, 10TV’s news director, Jen Nickels, reached out, and said that their story does not reflect the journalistic standards of 10TV, and the videos used were “viewer sourced content.” The offending videos have been removed from the piece, and an editor’s note has been added explaining the issue.
The original story follows below.
Imagine my shock today when my barber messaged me, informing me that I was in a local news report about street racing. My Abarth is pretty distinctive in the area—black paint with white wheels, a 15 percent window tint, stickers (most of which I’ve since removed), and being driven by a Black man. I checked the video, and it’s definitely me driving normally, on a normal road, obeying all traffic laws. The same video was also used as b-roll in a story the station did back in May, with my Abarth being held up to the greater Columbus area as a prime suspect in all this automotive hooliganism supposedly going on.
In the articles and videos released by WBNS-10TV, the station interviews concerned residents and business owners in the suburb of Dublin. Selected Dubliners relay their fear that the so-called street racing that sometimes happens in downtown Columbus has made its way to their affluent suburb, and now their beautiful home isn’t a safe place to live or work.
At first, I was amused, finding it funny that I ended up in such a pearl-clutchy report by simply following all local traffic laws. “Heh, do they really think a 160-hp city car can street race? A base Camry would blow the doors off me,” I mused to myself. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got, realizing that I (and every other sporty car driver) now might have a target on my back thanks to sloppy local journalism.
The Fiat 500 Abarth, is a loud and shouty car for the type of vehicle it is. Its 1.4-liter turbocharged engine doesn’t have a muffler or resonator after the catalytic converter, and it allows for one of the best engine notes this side of a V8. True, that also makes it louder than average, but the Abarth’s loudness is relative. It’s a perfectly legal vehicle to drive; its exhaust is well within the decibel values of any sort of noise ordinance, and the car itself is a lot quieter when on the move.
Yet, the framing of the 10TV video could make it seem like the Fiat 500 Abarth is breaking the law just by driving down the street. Add in the distinctive stickers, tint, and wheels, and now the narrative has shifted from a general example to a public finger-pointing that “Kevin’s specific vehicle is illegal, and he participates in street races.” I don’t.
What takes this from inaccurate and annoying to downright dangerous, though, is that Dublin police told 10TV that the way it plans on enforcing street racing laws, and holding so-called loud, nuisance vehicles accountable, is by traffic stops and tickets. A Fiat 500 Abarth isn’t exactly a common car, less so a black-on-black one, with lots of stickers, now used in multiple news reports about the dangers of street racing.
After this, I feel like there’s a very real possibility that my next drive through Dublin, Ohio could end in an unnecessary confrontation with police. I can see it now; a cop mistakenly insisting my Fiat 500 Abarth is illegal because of what they’ve seen on the news. The truth wouldn’t save me in that situation, just like it doesn’t stop police from harassing folks or acting as the judge, jury, and executioner over perceived slights and misinterpretations of the law. So many Black deaths at the hands of cops have started from traffic stops that turned sour. As recently as June 27, a black man in my hometown of Akron, Ohio was shot by police 90 times after a “fix it” ticket turned into a car chase that ended horribly.
At the same time, I empathize with Dublin, Ohio residents, and business owners. There are valid concerns about road safety, and I agree that no one should have to tolerate street racing or any sort of illegal, reckless driving in their community. But what 10TV showed wasn’t that. It was primarily me and others in sporty cars going about our business, driving like normal, enjoying our rides like anyone else. To present it as anything else is completely inaccurate. (And you might notice the audio on my Abarth clip sounds like it’s been overdubbed with the exhaust note of a much faster car.)
Reports like these don’t help make the community safer. All they do is polarize us even further, pitting residents against law-abiding sporty car owners, and potentially cops against Black drivers like me. Local news can be a powerful force in a region. It’s a shame 10TV is wielding it as recklessly as any actual street racer.