Officials 'Drone' on About Issues They Don't Understand

From drones to self-driving cars, bureaucrats seek to regulate industries before they even have a chance to develop.


One of the most frustrating things about America circa 2016 is there is virtually nothing any of us can do—start a business, invent a technology, remodel our house, become a barber, go to the beach—that doesn't come with a long set of rules enforced by myriad branches of government.

Check out the "prohibited" sign at the entrance of any park you visited on Independence Day. And that "become a barber" thing isn't a joke. If you want to cut hair for a living, you better check with the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, which governs everything down to the proper display of a "barber pole." This is true for almost every trade and profession.

Members of both major parties are equally zealous over what rules they want to promulgate and enforce. The only difference between both sides these days is which particular rules they like and which particular ones they don't like.

The fundamental concept of our nation—the one we celebrated last Monday with fireworks and barbecues—is that each of us gets to freely chart our own path. There are some ground rules, but the government isn't supposed to micromanage what we do.

Thanks to the internet revolution, we're also at the cusp of an economic transformation. New technologies are popping up everywhere. Old, poorly performing industries are being challenged by new ones (the sharing economy, etc.). It's what happens when people are free to innovate.

Yet every time a new idea takes root, old-guard companies that feel threatened, and politicians and regulators who like to control things, put the kibosh on the upstarts. They don't always succeed. But how much time and effort do companies such as Uber and Lyft—those ride-sharing services that have done more to battle DUIs than any checkpoint—have to spend battling new regulations rather than investing in their companies?

I still tool around in a 1988 Lincoln Town Car with an analog clock and in a little Volkswagon with a stick shift. The idea of self-driving cars is unimaginable. Yet I am astounded by how close that concept is to becoming reality. One could go to a bar, pass out in the back seat and arrive safely at home. People who don't drive would have unheard-of mobility.

The Department of Motor Vehicles' immediate reaction was to create rules that severely clamp down on the technology. How could any of us know how to properly regulate an industry that is just getting its legs? Free societies work best because no central planner can match the wisdom of millions of independently acting consumers.

The same theory holds for drones. Maybe UPS will airdrop your latest order from Amazon. Who knows? Can't we just set some ground rules and give the industry a chance to develop as consumer demand drives it? Because these unmanned vehicles share the skies with manned aircraft, there's a need for a consistent set of rules, of course. But it's wrong to impose draconian and patchwork rules that crush the industry in its infancy.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) vetoed the most ominous regulations—a bill that would have required drone operators to get property owners' permission for flying drones lower than 350 feet. This year, another measure would impose myriad restrictions on drones. Various business and technology groups argued in a letter that such an approach would "create a patchwork of regulation… chilling development and forestalling exciting new technologies." It failed in committee, but it could come back, and other bills raise similar concerns.

Meanwhile, the Orange County, Calif., Grand Jury is ramping up fear about these new devices. Its report last month stoked overwrought fears to public safety and worried about "the potential use of drones to smuggle contraband into detention facilities" (as if people who do that would follow new laws). The report called for every city to adopt a recreational drone ordinance similar to the one passed by Los Angeles. Other localities around the country are pondering similar ideas. Just what the industry needs—dozens of new regulations to navigate.

There are plenty of existing laws that punish people who act irresponsibly. Instead of passing new ones, why not give this—and other emerging industries—the chance to evolve?

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  1. While you make many good points, don’t forget that most of these restrictions had their origins with someone taking advantage of a situation. It might have been to screw a customer, abuse a privilege, or to intentionally do something dangerous. Had somebody not passed a regulation either prohibiting or limiting the act, there would have been some degree of harm experienced by others.

    Do I think it has gone too far? In may cases, yes. But, how do 1000s of people in many government legislative bodies (probably 90% of whom are lawyers) keep in business? By passing more laws.

    1. Had somebody not passed a regulation either prohibiting or limiting the act, there would have been some degree of harm experienced by others.

      Legislator: “Do you want people to fly drones over your house?”
      Constituent: “Heck no.”
      Legislator: [passes law]
      Constituent: “Where’s my drone-delivered package from Amazon?”
      Amazon: “Sorry, but we can’t fly over your neighbor’s house.”

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  2. “”””?a bill that would have required drone operators to get property owners’ permission for flying drones lower than 350 feet.””

    Sounds like a bill that protects property rights.

    1. Without reading the bill, it sounds like a bill to protect property rights against drones not operated by police.

      1. Ahhh yes…. I haven’t read the bill, but I guarantee you government operators were exempted from it, like every other odious law they saddle us with. I don’t need to be protected from Amazon, I need to be protected from Big Daddy Gubmint.

    2. We don’t have such a law for airplanes, or for helicopters which fly lower than airplanes. Drones are just the same thing, flying lower.

      Mind you, I acknowledge there’s a cutoff somewhere, I don’t want people driving their hovercars through my backyard legally just because they’re not “ON” my land.

      1. We do have minimum altitudes for aircraft.

        ?91.119 Minimum safe altitudes; general
        Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the
        following altitudes;
        (a) ?Anywhere. ?An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue
        hazard to persons or property on the surface.
        (b) ?Over congested areas. ?Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any
        open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a
        horizontal radius of 2.000 feet of the aircraft.
        (c) ?Over other than congested areas.
        An altitude of 500 feet above the surface except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In
        that case, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or
        (d) ?Helicopters. ?Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed In paragraph
        (b) or (c) of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the
        surface. In addition, each person operating a helicopter shall comply with routes or altitudes
        specifically prescribed for helicopters by the Administrator.

    3. … and ultimately worthless, in the long term.

      As camera and optical technology progresses, drone operators can simply hover near your property and zoom in, or take high resolution video if they wanted to snoop on you.

      Now you have a law that’s already outdated, and doesn’t do what it intended. So we pile new laws onto that.

      Sound like a good outcome?

    4. The ceiling for these lightweight aircraft is 400 feet. I have no idea how hard it is for aircraft of this side to maintain an altitude that high. But considering the operator doesn’t want to fall afoul of the FAA, nor presumably California, they have to leave that buffer at the top and bottom. It appears that 12 m/s (about 40 feet/second) is a reasonable expectation of the wind speed at that altitude. By wind speed alone, you can move 25 feet in less than a second. That seems like a pretty tight standard and could end up being a de facto ban on most drones going anything but up and down. Now maybe they aren’t going prosecute you should turbulence push the drone somewhat on one side of that limit or the other. Or maybe they won’t. Or maybe they won’t depending on who is complaining. (“Ms Streisand says your drone came too low. Can I see your flight logs?”)

      I am not against having a standard for privacy’s sake. I am not sure if it was properly balanced..

    5. “Sounds like a bill that protects property rights.”

      Yeah, about as much as a law prohibiting people from walking or driving within 350 feet of your house.

  3. Optimized society requires a nominal connective strata maintained by disinterested beings who understand the first fucking few words of this goddamn motherFUCKING sentence.

    People invested in the business of control and society-structuring understand that alarm and restriction offer infinite seas of bounding benefits to their bureaucratic webs of deceit.

    Escaping the molesting claws of these malevolent shrews requires perpetual resistance.

  4. “Officials ‘Drone’ on About Issues They Don’t Understand”

    Wouldn’t that be all of them?

  5. Free society? Hahahaha. I sound like a broken record with this example, but if you think you’re free, try going to a privately owned bar in any major city and lighting up a cigarette along with your beer. Tell me how “free” you are.

    1. I was at one the other day in Huntsville, AL. I didn’t smoke, but there were others smoking cigs and ecigs at the bar. Maybe you meant BIG city though. Huntsville’s just big.

  6. RE: Officials ‘Drone’ on About Issues They Don’t Understand
    From drones to self-driving cars, bureaucrats seek to regulate industries before they even have a chance to develop.

    Let us be honest here.
    All industries and businesses are intrinsically evil because they are capitalist enterprises and must be watched over every minute. These evil entities must be destroyed because they only give rise to economic freedom for those who invest in them and/or run them. Such a foul result only furthers these poor unfortunates from Uncle Sam’s plantation. This kind of activity only makes our wise and judicious socialists masters in power sad because they cannot lord over those who choose freedom over tyranny. However, applying needless laws, miles of red tape and restrictions, these poor fools see the folly of their capitalist enterprise and will eventually return to the warm and welcoming arms of the oppressors who ensure they never enjoy the fruits of their labors, business acumen and sacrifices while making their ill-gotten profits off the proletariat. Just think of the horrors that would result in our socialist slave state if the little people were to run their businesses without the beneficent bureaucrats and their red tape justifiably strangling these nefarious capitalist enterprises in their infancy. One weeps at that ugly thought.

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