Local news stories dealing with car culture are usually one of two things, unintentionally hilarious or awkward and cringey. On Friday morning I discovered a third category: potentially dangerous. Recently, WBNS-10TV in central Ohio has been on it with reports on street racing and illegal mods in the Columbus area. But for some reason, instead of shaky footage of actual races, the videos they’ve chosen as b-roll for those segments are random clips of people in interesting cars going about their business, driving at the speed limit—including a Fiat 500 Abarth that looks exactly like mine.
Correction: Saturday, July 2, 2022 @ 2:40pm ET: A previous version of this story wrongly stated that the author’s car was the one seen in the news report. It is in fact an identically-spec’d and customized Fiat 500 Abarth owned by someone else. The story has been heavily updated to reflect the truth, and The Drive sincerely regrets the error.
The car is so similar, from the black paint and white wheels to the window tint and sticker placement, that I initially thought it was me in the footage, which was recorded in an area I’m often driving through. I posted about it on Twitter, then wrote a whole story explaining how the report presented law-abiding enthusiasts as criminals. Turns out, I was wrong—after publishing, a local enthusiast named Brenden Berg reached out with proof that it was actually his car in the clip, an identical Abarth.
But the point still stands: presenting a breathless report on the dangers of street racing and illustrating it with videos of people in unique cars doing absolutely nothing wrong isn’t ok. And you don’t have to take it from me. I also heard from 10TV’s news director Jen Nickels after my story ran; she said the use of those videos didn’t reflect their journalistic standards and the station had removed them.
The initial piece focused on how street racing and loud vehicles had come to the affluent suburb of Dublin, relaying the concerns of residents and featuring law enforcement’s promise to take action. At first, I was amused when my barber texted me and said my car was on the news. I found it funny that the Abarth (along with a pretty conspicuous lime green Mustang) ended up in such a pearl-clutchy report. “Heh, do they really think a 160-hp city car can street race? A base Camry would blow the doors off that thing,” I mused. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got, feeling like the station had just painted a target on my back (and potentially the backs of anyone driving a sporty car).
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 original 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 identifying my or Berg’s car as illegal or a participant in street races.
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. Although I was mistaken, wrongly assuming that Berg’s car was mine, it’s undeniable how similar our vehicles are, and the piece painted a picture that any sporty car with a louder-than-mainstream exhaust could be a target of the police. There’s a 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, or any other mildly shouty sporty car 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 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 people in Dublin 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 people in sporty cars driving around normally. To present it as anything else is inaccurate. Reports like these don’t help make the community safer. All they do is polarize us even further, pitting residents against law-abiding enthusiasts.