Drones gone wild: We knew it would happen


The following editorial appeared in the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa., on Thursday, July 23:

Recreational drones have been available to the public for only a short time, but already they’re creating problems.

Several days ago in California, an especially fierce fire actually jumped over a major highway, terrifying motorists and confounding firefighters. The spectacle apparently attracted a few owners of drones, who sent unmanned devices into the area around Interstate 15, which connects southern California to Las Vegas, to watch and record the blaze. As the wall of flames sped up the hill toward the highway, some motorists had to flee their cars on foot. About 20 cars burned. Firefighters say drone users impeded their response.

Now a Connecticut teen is the subject of a federal investigation for allegedly posting an online video depicting a drone equipped with, and firing, a gun. The video, just a few seconds long, shows a hovering, four-propeller drone with a semiautomatic handgun strapped on top, firing four shots in a wooded area.

Federal rules prohibit using drones in a careless or reckless manner. In both of these cases recklessness is front and center.

In the California fire case, news reports said that in response to the drones using the airspace, pilots of a dozen firefighting aircraft were forced to wait about 30 minutes to drop water on the fast-moving fire or coordinate with firefighters on the ground. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Beyer blamed “an individual or perhaps several individuals with these … toys that are taking away our ability to reopen freeways or to save vehicles and structures.”

In Connecticut, the boy’s father said the 18-year-old built the drone with a Central Connecticut State University professor. And it’s not the teen’s first drone controversy. Last year a local beach-goer confronted him while he used a drone about 50 feet off the ground to film the beach. She called him a “pervert” and ripped his shirt. She got probation. He posted the video.

This newspaper has noted before that the development of drone technology and their easy availability to the buying public has far outstripped commonsense rules and regulations for operating them. Regulations regarding their use around airports are in place, but transgressions of many kinds are occurring.

It’s illegal to be a peeping Tom. It’s illegal to follow a firetruck to closely or interfere with any emergency vehicle’s swift passage. It’s illegal to fire a weapon carelessly. Drone operators must observe the same restrictions. Just because they can maneuver their aircraft into places or do things they couldn’t otherwise do doesn’t mean that it’s legal to do so.

The last thing firefighters need is for someone, or something, to get in their way. People should have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and they certainly shouldn’t have to worry about someone shooting a gun from a drone.

Sadly, even if the rules do catch up with the myriad ways to use drones, some people will use them inappropriately or even dangerously. Keep your eyes peeled. You may be the next to experience the eye in the sky.

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(c)2015 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

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