The public safety problem with recreational drones

There's someone out there who just cost the public about $10,000 or $15,000. That's how much the U.S. Forest Service estimates it cost to abort an air tanker operation fighting the Lake fire when a "hobby" drone bumbled into restricted airspace.

Worse, that person endangered the lives of people working hard to fight a fire still raging in the San Bernardino Mountains, forcing the aircraft to abandon their drops and leave the area. And that resulted in the fire getting bigger.

Forest Service officials were righteously ticked off and called a news conference the next day to make sure the word gets out that it is both illegal and wrong to fly a drone in the airspace around a fire.

I'll give the pilot of that drone the benefit of the doubt that he or she didn't realize the harm caused by sending this drone up to view what was probably some spectacular sights. But how many people realize there are rules about use of drones in restricted airspace and peeping on the neighbors?

As recreational or "hobby" drones get cheaper, and become ubiquitous as the Flip camera in 2009, we need to start grappling with how to limit the amount of damage drones and their unwitting operators can do to public safety.

Follow me on Twitter at @marielgarzaLAT

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