Writing Editorials against Automated Traffic Enforcement (and any Other Topics that Support NMA Positions)

From Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director and James C. Walker, NMA Foundation Executive Director

Writing a newspaper or online editorial can be one of the most effective advocacy efforts you can do because not only do regular folks read the editorial section but so do influencers.

NMA Foundation Executive Director, James C. Walker writes letters nearly every day concerning automated traffic enforcement. He recently asked the Orlando Sentinel if he could write a rebuttal to an editorial they posted about the recent Florida Supreme Court ruling for cities that have red-light camera programs. The editorial stated that the justices were correct to rule in favor of local governments and voters, so they could remain in the driver’s seat on this issue.

Here is Jim’s rebuttal editorial that appeared the day after the first editorial:

Rebuttal on red-light cameras: Voters are not in the driver’s seat

After reading the Orlando Sentinel’s “Justices rightly leave local governments and voters in the driver’s seat on red-light cameras,” I wonder whether the Editorial Board was aware of several facts about red light cameras and crashes. 

First, American Traffic Solutions videos show serious crashes happen when cars violate the lights even after they have been red for several seconds. Cameras don’t prevent these crashes; they just memorialize them. Most of those drivers were heavily distracted or impaired; sending bills to them for the violations in the mail weeks later had no effect on preventing the crashes. 

The Florida Department of Transportation has forbidden most cities from setting the yellow intervals long enough for the actual approach speeds of at least 85 percent of the cars since September 2013: Before July 2011, yellow intervals were set for the actual 85th percentile approach speed or the posted speed limit, whichever was greater, because posted limits are often improperly set lower than the safest 85th percentile speed levels. This makes many yellows lights about 0.2 to 0.8 seconds too short for the actual conditions. As a result, many tickets go to safe drivers who violate the red light by less than one second; these drivers clear the intersections during the all-red phase and before the cross traffic can arrive. These drivers present zero crash risks. 

Ticket cameras lost 36 of 40 public votes in the United States so far. Ninety percent of the time voters have said no, if they are allowed to vote. But it is very hard to get a vote on a local ballot, so the voters are not actually in the driver’s seat as the Sentinel editorial suggests they should be.

Cities ticket safe, slow-rolling right-on-red turns that almost never cause injuries or fatalities. Federal research shows right-on-red turns were involved in only six one-hundredths of 1 percent of crashes with injuries or fatalities. Most camera tickets for slow-rolling right-on-red turns go to safe drivers who endanger no one. 

For three years, the Florida House has voted to ban red-light cameras, but the bills were stopped in the Senate, usually by committee chairs refusing to even hold hearings. If the bills had reached the Senate floor, they would almost certainly have passed, as they did in the House. Once again, the voters have not been in the driver’s seat; a handful of Florida senators have occupied the seat and blocked access to it. 

The 2010 bill to authorize red-light cameras in Florida gave 52.5 percent of the funds from each ticket to the state government. The state is not on the hook for paying a penny for red-light cameras. The state leaves it to cities or counties to pay the vendors’ cost. The real purpose for the cameras was to boost state revenues. 

At least two annual reports in Florida show crashes increased at red-light camera intersections, leading many people to conclude that increased crash rates are not an indicator of a successful “safety program.” 

Red-light cameras are mostly about money for government, not safety. If the voters actually were actually in the driver’s seat, as the Editorial Board suggests they should be, the cameras would be long gone. 

James C. Walker is a life member of the National Motorists Association. He is also a board member and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation. 

The difference between a letter-to-the-editor and an op-ed/opinion piece is the op-ed piece is longer and more essay-like. The National Motorists Association encourages all our members and supporters to speak up and find out how you can write your own editorials against automated traffic enforcement or some other motorists’ rights issue.

Here are some guidelines for writing op-ed and opinion pieces.

  • Check guidelines for submission. Each publication is different and if you follow the guidelines closely, an advocate will have a much better chance of getting a piece printed. Email the editor immediately if you would like to write a rebuttal to a piece that was just printed or posted online.  Be sure to include all your identification and contact information – full name, address, phone, email, etc.
  • Timely and not too long. An op-ed or opinion piece should generally be between 500 and 800 words.  Following the particular media’s rules gives a much better chance for acceptance.  My (James Walker) technique is to just spew out a first draft with little regard to form or size to be sure I get out all my ideas down first. Then I edit back to the size needed, rearranging and emphasizing each point as clearly and concisely as possible.
  • Make your op-ed or opinion piece about one key point only.
  • In the first sentence, tell the reader why he or she should care, then explain the problem followed by solutions. If you are referencing another article or report that had previously been published or presented, use the URL link so that the reader can access the source. When rebutting an earlier piece in a particular media, referencing why you have a different view on their specific points x & y can be powerful.
  • Write from your own perspective. Use your own voice. Always be polite and businesslike making your points.
  • If you need additional information in order write an editorial, check out the NMA Issues Pages or contact the National Office at nma@motorists.org. It can be good to use some of the key phrases or position points on our website in your piece, so then anyone who explores our site after your piece will see similar information presented in similar ways.

If you are not a member already join the National Motorists Association today to help keep our organization strong and to learn more about motorists’ rights advocacy.

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