Americans OK with police drones – private ownership, not so much
New rules on privately owned drones can’t come fast enough for most Americans.
Some 73 percent of respondents to a Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Thursday said they want regulations for the lightweight, remote-control planes that reportedly have been involved in an increasing number of close calls with aircraft and crowds. People are also uneasy about potential invasions of privacy by drones carrying cameras or other devices.
Forty-two percent went as far as to oppose private ownership of drones, suggesting they prefer restricting them to officials or experts trained in safe operation.
Another 30 percent said private drone ownership was fine, and 28 percent were not sure, according to the survey of more than 2,000 respondents, conducted Jan. 21-27.
Many respondents were surveyed before a small quad copter breeched the White House security perimeter and crash-landed on the grounds on Jan. 26.
The poll results show widespread unease about the devices, many of which can fly as high as 6,000 feet carrying video cameras or other payloads.
“In regular peoples’ hands, it’s easy for them to get misused,” said poll respondent Sandy Gifford, a 58-year-old daycare worker in Portland, Oregon. She equated drone dangers with those posed by guns and drugs.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is months late in developing small drone regulations. A draft FAA rule, under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, is expected to be published soon, kicking off a year or two of comment and revisions before it takes effect.
The FAA rule will cover commercial drone uses, such as photography, surveying and crop inspection, which are now mostly banned. It will not apply to hobbyists operating model aircraft under a safety code of a community-based organization. Congress granted these users an exemption from rules in 2012.
It was unclear how the rule will deal with people who buy drones online or at a big box store, rather than joining the sport through a club or hobby shop.
These non-traditional users, “don’t have the same safety mindset that a modeler does,” said Rich Hudson, government affairs director at the Academy of Model Aeronautics, world’s largest community-based model aircraft group, with nearly 80 years of safe flying.
The AMA safety code says devices should stay below 400 feet near airports, not be flown carelessly or recklessly, and avoid all other aircraft, among other things.
Drones also have sparked fears of snooping by neighbors or law enforcement. The Reuters/Ipsos poll showed strong attitudes on both questions. Seventy-one percent said drones should not be allowed to operate over someone else’s property, and 64 percent said they would not want their neighbor to have a drone.
But respondents widely supported drone use in law enforcement. Sixty-eight percent of respondents support police flying drones to solve crimes, and 62 percent support using them to deter crime.
“Where there’s suspicious activity, it would help the police,” said Phillip Gimino, 75, a retired engineer in Edmond, Oklahoma, who flew gas-powered radio-controlled aircraft as a kid. “But it should be limited.”
Gimino, a former gun dealer, opposes gun control laws, but said drones should be off limits to private owners until rules are in place.
The survey showed a split on other uses: 46 percent don’t want news organizations using drones to gather news, while 41 percent support that use. And 49 percent think parents should be able to use drones to monitor their children, while 38 percent oppose that use.
The survey of 2,405 American adults has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by David Gregorio)