Where’s the Media Skepticism on Automated Traffic Enforcement?

Editor’s Note: The media has become lazy when it comes to motorists’ rights issues. Here is a piece from September 2015 that examines why and how one reporter dug deeper. Hopefully, this will inspire current and future journalists to not take everything you read at face value but dig deeper. 

Where’s the Skepticism? NMA E-Newsletter #349

Good reporters are skeptical by nature. They’re not supposed to take official pronouncements at face value; they’re supposed to dig deeper to get the real story. Yet, we constantly see lazy reporting on driving issues or stories that simply parrot the latest propaganda from the likes of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Don’t get us wrong. We expect reporters to challenge our positions, but we also expect them to challenge the conventional wisdom as expressed by those on the other side. They seldom do.

So, when we do see more balanced and thorough coverage of motorists’ issues, we feel compelled to recognize it, as we did when Tampa TV reporter Noah Pransky exposed the rigged red-light camera game in Florida. Pransky’s reporting led to reforms that have curtailed the spread of ticket cameras throughout Florida.

And last week, reporter Kathryn Watson wrote an insightful piece on speed cameras for The Daily Caller News Foundation. Instead of sounding like an IIHS press release, the article exposed the truth that speed cameras have everything to do with money and nothing to do with safety. The headline set the tone: “Speed Camera Are All Profit, No Mercy.”

Watson then told the story of Will Foreman, a Maryland business owner whose delivery trucks kept triggering the speed cameras, even though they weren’t speeding. Foreman received a legal aid grant from the NMA Foundation and went to court a dozen times. He eventually prevailed in several of those cases, but not before being put through the traffic justice meat grinder. Kudos to Watson for even bothering to talk to Foreman. Most reporters who contact the NMA have little interest in hearing the stories of those who have been victimized by photo enforcement.

Watson also dug into the numbers behind the cameras. She reported that in 2010 Forest Heights, Maryland, had a municipal budget of around $2 million. But after the speed cameras went up in 2011 that figure jumped to $5.9 million. The story also described how several large cities like New York and Chicago have raked in tens of millions in speed camera revenue.

But Watson didn’t stop there. She tied the spread of speed cameras to favorable media coverage: “Consequently, speed cameras are becoming more widespread, often encouraged by supportive media coverage.”

And then she dared to question the results of the latest IIHS “study” purporting to show widespread speed camera safety benefits. We have never seen the IIHS challenged in this way. In fact, NMA spokesperson John Bowman was actually quoted rebutting the IIHS report. Again, this never happens, even though we call out the self-serving motives of IIHS and its deficient studies at every opportunity.

Finally, Watson dug up a 2013 study we hadn’t seen yet. It comes from the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine and examined the impact of speed cameras along a stretch of highway in Arizona. The study concluded the presence or absence of speed cameras had no impact on crashes: “Our data did not show any statistical increase or decrease in total number of motor vehicle crashes with speed cameras,” the study said.

Thanks, Kathryn! We’ll add that one to our arsenal.

We understand Watson plans several follow-up pieces. We can’t wait to read them.

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