Drone pa­trol shouldn’t get off the ground

Ottawa Sun - - COMMENT -

In today’s in­stal­ment of bird-brained gov­ern­ment ideas: The prov­ince is mulling the use of drones to pa­trol On­tario’s 400-se­ries high­ways.

Now, don’t get us wrong; we’re in favour of road safety. We’re in favour of harsh pun­ish­ments for drunk or drugged driv­ers and com­ing down hard on those who use their cell­phones be­hind the wheel. And we’re also in favour of fol­low­ing the speed lim­its.

But we aren’t in favour of money-rais­ing schemes that are cre­ated un­der the guise of road safety (see: photo radar, cash cow.)

The scheme in this case is – wait for it – peo­ple us­ing car­pool lanes with­out hav­ing the right num­ber of folks in their car. Dis­as­ter! Scan­dal! Out­rage! The fix? Pho­to­graph ’em. From a drone. A drone that’s four me­tres wide and can zoom around for hours and hours on end.

“The idea is that the drone is fly­ing just off the side of the high­way. It has an on­board cam­era and snaps pic­tures from the front, side and back views of each car,” says Jeremy Wang of The Sky Guys, a com­pany that has a $750,000 con­tact with the On­tario gov­ern­ment (and other part­ners) to look into this par­tic­u­lar is­sue.

This is such a bad idea, we barely know where to be­gin. OK, first, safety.

What if there is a tech fail­ure that sees a drone fall from the sky or land on a busy high­way? Or on a house?

Sec­ond, pri­vacy. It is, to put it mildly, creepy to have a ma­chine take photos of your car from all sides. This isn’t sim­ply a cam­era at an in­ter­sec­tion read­ing your li­cence plate. This one could be peer­ing into your ve­hi­cle. See­ing you and your kids.

Third, mis­sion creep. If govern­ments can have drones watch us in our ve­hi­cles, where else will they soon de­cide this is a good idea? Our back­yards?

For now, this is a Toronto-area pro­posal (and prob­lem), since that’s where the pi­lot project is sup­posed to be. But who knows? What starts in Oakville could soon show up on Ot­tawa’s doorstep.

Mean­while, Trans­port Canada says drones can’t fly out of the eye­sight of their op­er­a­tors. So this might not even be eco­nom­i­cally ef­fi­cient.

It’s an idea that should never get off the ground.

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