Science Policy Friday: Eyes of the Skies, Drones on the Rise - Part 2

 

SciPoliFri_Box.gifThis is the second in a series of articles or news gathering of science and technology policy issues facing New Jersey or the nation. Thanks to my science and environment intern Arcadia Lee for research and drafting this article. Cross-posted at BlueJersey.com

Last week, I discussed my legislation (A-1039/S-2310) that sets standards for law enforcement and other government agency use of drones. This week, I’m highlighting legislation (A-4344) sponsored by Assembly Homeland Security Chair Annette Quijano and myself that seeks to protect infrastructure from drone surveillance and requires certain drones to be registered and insured.

There have been a few instances to date where a policy like this would have come in handy. Over the summer, a woman was knocked unconscious when she was struck by a small drone during the Pride parade in downtown Seattle. In New York, a businessman was almost hit by a drone after colliding with a building. Also this summer, in Florida, a small UAV sat hovered near a woman sitting at an outdoor table at a bar in Tampa, Florida and when the drone was made to follow her as she left, it crashed into her car's roof. California is still trying to track down the owners of drones that interfered with firefighting during recent wildfires.

A-4344 starts an important conversation on what type of reasonable restrictions and penalties should be imposed on those that take on the responsibility of operating a drone.

For civilian drone use, Bill A-4344 would help establish order to keep drones out of the wrong hands and ensure that lawful drone operators have a clear understanding regarding liability should an accident occur. In light of all our recent technology innovations, there should be clear rules regarding unmanned vehicles as they gain popularity and creating good public policy around the issue will, without a doubt, help keep public safety.

At the same time, policymakers have to be careful not to put up too many barriers that prevent the promise that drones may bring. Whether it is traffic monitoring, public safety uses, package deliveries, academic research, drones can play an important role. The FAA has already proposed new rules for drone operators to follow. Finding the right balance between recreational use, further commercial development and privacy and public safety will be important.

Under provisions of A-4344, it is a fourth degree crime to monitor, observe, photograph or electronically record critical infrastructures, including but not limited to those related to transportation, emergency services, power generation and chemical refining. Also, this bill seeks to punish privately-owned drone operators who refrain from obtaining prior written consent before operations. The measure would require drones to be registered with the Division of Aeronautics in the Department of Transportation and that they are insured, in case of technical malfunction.

The FAA takes the size of the drone, whether the operator maintains line-of-sight, and its use (recreation or non-recreation) into account in its proposed rules. It is also considering a more flexible approach for ultra-light weight drones as well.

A-4344 passed through the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee on June 4th and is awaiting action by the full Assembly. It does not have a Senate sponsor at this time, and further amendments may be forthcoming as the bill winds through the legislative process. One thing is for sure, drones are here to stay and the discussion of how best to regulate them, while promoting new technology will continue.

Next week, we will look at upcoming hearings for the State's Energy Master Plan


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