The UK government plans to start making drone owners take safety tests

US Marine Corps drone testing
A Marine with Task Force Southwest catches the Instant Eye small unmanned aerial system following a flight at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, February 8, 2017. US Marines Corps/Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

The UK government is preparing to get a lot stricter on drones as their increasing popularity raises a number of safety concerns.

Citizens that own drones weighing more than 250g (80z) may need to register their drone and attend safety awareness courses under new government rules announced on Saturday.

The Department of Transport did not specify when the new rules could be introduced or how exactly they would be enforced.

The drone tests are designed to assess whether owners understand the safety, security, and privacy regulations.

The government said it also plans to bring forward and expand the use of “geo-fencing”. This would involve programming drones using GPS co-ordinates to stop them entering no-fly zones, such as prisons or airport space.

DJI, one of the best known drone makers, told the BBC that it was in favour of the proposed new measures.

Gopro karma drone
A GoPro drone. GoPro/YouTube

“Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones,” said Aviation Minister Lord Martin Callanan.

“Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives.

“But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones and introducing safety awareness tests to educate users, we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”

The Independent reported last August that drone complaints to UK police soared 352% in a year. Some people have used them to spy on people, while others have flown them dangerously close to commercial airliners and helicopters. They have also been used to fly contraband into prisons.

Last year, the government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched what it called the “drone code”. The key principles of the drone code include:

  • always keep your drone in sight
  • stay below 400 feet (120 metres)
  • follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • keep the right distance from people and property
  • you are responsible for each flight
  • stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields

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