The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), part of the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), is reminding new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) owners that they should be aware of what they’re liable for – and covered for – if they crash their aircraft.
The DOI explains that drones can pose a number of critical insurance issues that operators should consider before taking flight: e.g., personal injury, property damage and privacy concerns. Thus, the division has compiled a list of five tips for flying.
1. Before you take flight, first check your local, state and federal laws regarding drones.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots of unmanned aircraft have the same responsibility to fly safely as manned aircraft pilots. In addition, state and local municipalities may have their own laws regarding drone use.
Federal regulators have already begun registering civilian drone users in an attempt to address air safety risks and allow authorities to trace a drone back to an owner – which means it is vital that you’re in compliance with laws and regulations and have the appropriate insurance coverage.
2. Either obtain insurance, or confirm that your current insurance covers drone accidents.
Because UAVs are operated remotely, there’s no risk to passengers or crew. However, drones present a significant risk to property and life on the ground in the event of an accident, and the concern is the liability for an accident caused by your drone.
Drones can crash due to faulty and inappropriate operation, mechanical defects, or component failure. If your drone crashes into someone else’s vehicle or a person, the accident is your responsibility. Losses and damages could involve bodily injury to humans and animals, as well as buildings and other structures.
Using a private drone as a hobby is generally covered under a homeowners or renters insurance policy (subject to a deductible), which typically covers radio-controlled model aircraft. If your drone falls and damages a car (including your own), it may be covered if you have a comprehensive coverage auto policy.
Generally, policies cover liability for an accident caused by your drone. Check with your agent or insurer to verify your policy contains this important coverage. In addition, look at the contents section of your homeowners policy or talk to your agent to see if your drone will be covered if it is lost, stolen or damaged.
3. Your insurance may not cover privacy violations.
With on-board cameras and other data-collection capabilities, drones may capture private data that could be harmful or embarrassing if shared. Beyond intentional surveillance, drones may also unintentionally capture images during routine and unrelated flights. As a drone owner, remain mindful of privacy concerns and the laws regarding them. Insurers are developing policies to cover these liability exposures, so keep in touch with your insurer to make sure your use remains covered.
4. Follow safety guidelines.
Hobbyists have been flying model aircraft for decades. However, advances in technology allow drones to hover quietly and fly far from their pilot.
With some recreational or commercial drones weighing up to 55 lbs., a UAV’s fall from the sky can cause significant damage to property or bystanders. The FAA has issued these guidelines for drone hobbyists:
-Don’t fly higher than 400 feet, and stay clear of surrounding obstacles;
-Keep the aircraft in sight at all times;
-Stay away from manned aircraft operations;
-Don’t fly within five miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying;
-Avoid flying near people or stadiums;
-Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs;
-Use caution when flying your unmanned aircraft.
5. What if you’re involved in a drone accident?
Rules about drones are still being made. The widespread use of drones – private and commercial – can pose various risks, ranging from safety to privacy of individuals. Risks could best be managed by property and casualty insurers – but only when defined drone operational requirements and performance standards are in place. Complete and clear drone regulation, by the states and the FAA, is necessary before insurers can meet policyholder needs.
The FAA has only proposed a rulemaking for commercial operations, which are currently authorized on a case-by-case basis. Until the rules are finalized, if you find yourself a victim of a drone accident, follow the same procedures with your insurance the way you would with your car or your home.
In areas like drone insurance, where requirements are evolving, it’s important to check with the DOI for up-to-date information, says the division, which adds that it offers a consumer resource where insurance experts can answer questions and provide easy-to-understand information.
In addition, the DOI notes other resources regarding UAV operations, including the Colorado DOT’s “Fly Responsibly,” the FAA’s UAV page and the Academy of Model Aeronautics’ National Model Aircraft Safety Code.