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The tech equivalent of clean needles?

4 October 2018

Drug abuse is a big problem around the world. So big in fact, that the USA declared a war against drugs several decades ago.

How's that going?

Well with a number of states decriminalising dope recently, it seems that they're starting to give quite a bit of ground eh?

In most places however, the possession, sale and use of recreational drugs (except alcohol and tobacco) remains illegal and authorities continue to try and control the movement and use of such substances.

Yet, strangely enough, many countries also give away free needles for use by those who inject their drug of choice intravenously.

At first glance, this might seem incredibly hypocritical. Why would you make it easier for addicts to get needles if you are trying to reduce the levels of illegal drug abuse?

The answer is simple of course...

Smart people with a very pragmatic outlook realised that more drug users were dying from diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, TB and other blood-borne infections than were actually dying from drug use. The burden these people placed on the health system was becoming significant and the risk these people posed to the general public (as a source of infection) was significant. Shared needles were the major vector for the spread of such diseases in drug-taking circiles.

It was only commonsense therefore, to admit that illegal drug use was taking place at a rate that could not be controlled and therefore, providing clean needles would at least help stem the spread of these nasty diseases.

Clean needle programmes exist therefore, with the full blessing of authorities -- even though one could technically argue that such schemes aide and abet the taking of illegal drugs.

Sometimes you just have to wear your "Mr Practical" hat if you want to save lives and keep everyone safe.

So what has this got to do with technology?

Well in the drone and RC model community, we make extensive use of technologies that could allow us to break the regulations by flying our toys beyond the limits of our unaided vision. Such flying is called "beyond visual line of sight" or BVLOS.

Throw a camera and video transmitter onto a model, put on a set of video glasses and now you can fly many kilometres off into the distance and safely return when done.

Yeah, that's kind of cool - but, according to the regulators, it's also insanely dangerous and thus prohibited under the regulations applying to such things.

Now while I agree that when done without adequate knowledge of what you're doing and an insufficient understanding of the technology, BVLOS flight can pose a risk to person and property. Idiots who don't use the right equipment, plan their flights, check for potential risks and fully understand what they're doing could end up crashing into someone's property or even getting in the way of a helicopter or aircraft -- with potentially fatal results.

The unfortunate thing is that almost *everyone* who tries this "fly by video" first person view (FPV) form of drone or RC model flying, finds themselves sorely tempted to break the rules and fly so far away that the model can not be seen with the naked eye. This desire has nothing to do with being a rebel, it's simply a burning desire "to see what it's like" -- and eventually most try it, at least once.

This is where the equivalent of a clean needle programme comes it.

If we're going to acknowledge that people with drones and FPV RC models *are* going to break this rule and fly beyond visual range, what can we do about it?

Well from where I stand, it's like acknowledging that drug addicts are going to take drugs -- and deciding "well at least let's try to mitigate as much of the collateral risk as we can". That's how the clean needle programme works.

For my part, I'm about to do the same with drone and FPV fliers. I'm going to give them (through a series of videos) the knowledge, understanding and procedures they need to break the rules *safely*.

In my book, safety trumps rules every time. As we all know, rules are designed on the assumption that we're all idiots and bad actors who need to be restricted in what we do because we can't be trusted to do it safely or responsibly. This is exactly how the aviation regulations seem to be organised so effectively you can do bugger all unless you're prepared to create a dissertation consisting of thousands of pages of risk assessment, management, mitigation and such -- so as to prove that you're not one of the 5% who can't be trusted.

Whilst such measures do protect us from the 5% who are idiots... in doing so they also tend to impose a huge overhead and penalty on the rest of us who are trustworthy and responsible.

Now I would *never* suggest that anyone breaks the rules regarding BVLOS flying, any more than I would encourage people to take illegal drugs. However, I do believe that since we know *all* FPV fliers will try it at least once then the only sensible thing to do is to arm them with the knowledge, understanding and other elements necessary to do it safely.

If the government and the police can accept the sensibility of a safe-needle program for drug addicts, I don't see why the government and CAA can't accept the equivalent for drone and RC fliers. After all, the goals are the same -- to increase the level of safety out there and protect both those engaged in the activity and the wider public.

Any objections to my plan from "the powers that be" would show an incredibly hypocrisy and lack of understanding of the situation.

However, it will be very interesting to see what (if any) official response there is to this proposal.

I've canvassed the viewers of my RCModelReviews YouTube channel and there has been overwhelming support for this initiative, with many admitting that they were going to break this rule anyway and saying that they'd like to do it as safely as possible -- but what do Aardvark readers think?

Fear not, I will not be exposing myself to prosecution -- I will only be showing others the *safe* way to do this. Perhaps there is some seldom-used "conspiracy" law that could be applied to my actions -- but I would have to ask, why isn't the same law applied to the clean needles groups who would furnish drug addicts with the equipment they need to break the law?

Safety first? Or the naive assumption that people never break the rules?

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