‘Hit & Run’ Drone Law Proposed in California | Courthouse News Service
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‘Hit & Run’ Drone Law Proposed in California

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California drone owners would be forced to stay at the scene of an accident and buy license plates and insurance under a pair of bills introduced Wednesday.

The proposed regulations come at the height of the drones' popularity and on the heels of a holiday season that saw retailers sell more than 1 million of them, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Under Assembly Bill 1662, if a drone operator loses control of a craft and injures someone or damages property, he or she would be required to stay at the scene and give information to police. With drone purchases spiking, the number of accidents is likely to increase, the bill's author Rep. Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, said.

"If a drone breaks down, runs out of power or crashes into something, the operator needs to do the responsible thing and come forward and identify himself to the victim and to the police. This bill will make that responsibility the law," Chau said in a statement.

The "hit-and-run" drone bill was prompted by an incident in September when a baby was injured in Pasadena by shrapnel from a downed drone. The operator was flying the drone above a movie screening in a public park and he did stay at the scene.

Chau said the incident was just one of many and that despite improvements in drone safety, accidents are inevitable.

While AB 1662 addresses current drone owners, Rep. Mike Gatto's proposal would require electronic license plates for drones and cheap insurance policies that come with new drone purchases. The DRONE Act of 2016 would also require larger drones to be equipped with GPS systems that would automatically shut off the drone off it approaches an airport.

Gatto calls the bill a "sensible measure that will increase public safety," and hold drone owners responsible for injuries and property damage.

"If cars have license plates and insurance, drones should have the equivalent, so they can be properly identified, and owners can be held financially responsible, whenever injuries, interference or property damage occurs," said Gatto, D-Glendale.

The FAA in December introduced federal guidelines requiring drone owners to pay a $5 registration fee or risk fines of up to $27,500. Operators, including foreigners and tourists, are required to possess their FAA registration while flying drones.

The proposals are the latest efforts to regulate the thriving hobby. Last year California attempted to pass a bill banning drones from flying lower than 350 feet above private property. The bill drew criticism from Amazon and the drone industry. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in September.

The authors of the new bills said California laws must evolve with technology, and compared possible backlash on drone licensing to the state of the auto industry a century ago.

"One could imagine the auto industry balking at the idea of registration requirements at the turn-of-the-century, but the industry survived," Gatto said.

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