An amateur Phantom II operator (or, perhaps we should say, former operator) did something stupid that could have hurt someone, and now laments the fact that what he was doing isn’t illegal:
The thing is, there are basically zero regulations in the U.S. preventing what I did from happening again. There is no age requirement or learner’s permit necessary to purchase a drone. There are some basic rules in place from the FAA that ban hobbyists from flying over densely populated areas or close to airports, but aside from that, if you stay under 400 feet, you’re good to go.
When it comes to commercial drone flights, on the other hand, the FAA has made them completely illegal in the US. It’s taken years to develop new rules for companies, during which time other countries have forged ahead. And now it’s saying it will miss the deadline set by Congress to get commercial drones flying over American skies in 2015.
This is completely backward. It didn’t really hit me until my own crash, but the FAA is actually focusing its regulation on the wrong group. Companies typically need to carry liability insurance on the machinery they operate. A bad crash would be terrible for a brand, something that will make them more conservative about flights. The people with the least to lose are the casual hobbyist like me.
We think that the writer has a valid point about insurance concerns driving the commercial drone sector. But his call for the nanny state to stop him from acting foolishly is, well, silly. First, his argument assumes that the woman on the bicycle would have been left without a remedy had his careless behavior injured her or her child.
His in-laws probably have homeowner’s insurance. It might have adversely impacted his marriage, but any decent plaintiffs’ lawyer would have immediately looked into that.
And perhaps the writer has his own umbrella policy. He doesn’t say.
But the larger question is, at what point do we call on government to restrict the liberty of others, simply because some people act irresponsibly? We license car drivers, and have laws against reckless driving and drunk driving, but that doesn’t stop cars from being deadly missiles (much more dangerous than a 5-pound drone) in the hands of the wrong person. Requiring licenses for model aircraft operators seems grossly disproportionate to the risk involved.
If we are to remain a free and open society, on some level we have to still count on the virtue of individual citizens as the primary keeper of civic peace. Translated into contemporary parlance:
Don’t be an idiot, and we’ll all get along, just fine.