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  • ‘Give a Damn About Laser Safety’
Aug 2011
Aug. 16, 2011 — We’ve all heard it, of course – as kids, some of us even as adults testing weed whackers in aisle 3 of our local home and garden store.

“Put that down. That’s not a toy, you know.”

We may not have heard it enough, though, with respect to laser pointers. Really only intended for teachers and PowerPoint devotees, these tiny devices have become nearly ubiquitous in recent years, with kids and adults alike wielding them as if they were, well, toys. The problem is: They’re not.

We’re occasionally reminded of this when someone uses a laser pointer to target an aircraft, or maybe inadvertently strikes one with the laser while simply goofing around. Even a small laser pointer can fill a cockpit with light, or temporarily blind a pilot, putting the aircraft’s crew and passengers in very real danger.

In a recent, illustrative incident — certainly one that makes for good copy — the only grandson of the legendary Gone With the Wind actor Clark Gable was arrested for striking a police helicopter with a laser beam. Clark James Gable, 22, was shining a laser pointer out the window of a car when it struck the helicopter patrolling Hollywood, filling the cockpit with a bright green light.

Comments by Roxane David, Gable’s manager, are illuminating. “Boys will be boys, and he was playing with what he thought was a toy and not a felony piece,” she told CNN in the wake of the incident. “From what he told me from jail, he was shining it out the window and the next thing he knew was that he had a spotlight on him.”

I say her comments are “illuminating” because education is a critical component in addressing laser pointer abuse, especially with respect to incidents with aircraft. Clearly, too few people understand the harm they could do. (Yes, I realize she was trying to portray her client in the best possible light — at least as something other than a remorseless criminal — but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gable were actually ignorant of the dangers the laser pointer posed.)

How best to educate the public has proved elusive, though. In a recent statement, Laser Institute of America noted that the FDA requires any laser sold in the U.S. to be labeled with its hazard class, output power and wavelengths emitted – “terminology not commonly understood by the public,” it wrote. Requiring specific warnings about the dangers of pointing lasers at aircrafts, at someone’s eye, etc., would therefore be a good start.

Here’s another idea. I doubt it will gain any traction, but maybe it will help to get the ball rolling.

Those of use who were around in the seventies might remember the “Give a hoot — don’t pollute!” campaign featuring Woodsy Owl, the iconic spokes-woodland creature for the National Forest Service. Along similar lines, maybe Clark James Gable, an aspiring actor, could record a public service announcement urging people not to aim laser pointers at aircraft or at other people. He could end it with the following soon-to-be-classic tagline about laser safety.

… Wait for it …

“Because frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.”

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