Bill to Knock Drones Out Of Fire Zones Passes Legislature, Awaits Governor’s Signature

Assemblyman Mike Gatto and Senator Ted Gaines announced the passage of SB 168, legislation which would protect forests, property and the lives of citizens, firefighters and emergency personnel from drone interference, passed the legislature and is now headed to the Governor.

             Senate Bill 168 will increase fines for drone use that interferes with firefighting and emergency responders.  The bill also seeks to grant civil immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations.  Gaines and Gatto drafted the emergency legislation even before the disturbing string of reports indicating that drones operating over wildfires have interfered with firefighting aircraft.

“This legislation will put the safety of Californians first, and will punish criminals who ignore the safety of our emergency-response professionals and the people they are trying to protect,” said Assemblyman Gatto, Chair of the Consumer Protection and Privacy Committee.  “A flying piece of plastic with a camera attached is the last thing a pilot needs to worry about before making a difficult maneuver to make a water drop.”

“To think that someone would interfere with firefighting or emergency response situations to get a sneak peek or to post a drone video on YouTube is an outrage that is deserving of punishment and condemnation,” said Senator Gaines.  “I’m pleased that my Assembly colleagues agreed, and I am hopeful for the Governor’s support of this critical bill.”

This past summer, there have been multiple reports in California that planes were forced to reroute or land, in some cases having to discharge their critical, flame-retardant loads in areas not affected by fire because a drone had interfered with their drop.  Forest Service officials have also voiced concerns that drones could interfere with the deployment and safety of the “smokejumper” crews who parachute into remote wildfire areas.

            Assemblyman Gatto sees the need for current law to be updated in order to deal with the rapid progress of technology.  He believes guidelines and safeguards are needed for new technology that is becoming very popular with Californians.

“When automobile use became widespread, California had to update its laws too,” said Assemblyman Gatto.   “This legislation is the equivalent of the ‘No Parking in front of a fire hydrant’ rule for the age of democratized aviation.  It’s time to update our laws as technology keeps advancing.”

“First, I want everyone to know that flying drones in these areas is dangerous and wrong.  Let’s get the word out as far and wide as we can – immediately – to help keep our people and emergency personnel safe,” said Senator Gaines.  “But this penalty and this immunity will help ensure our skies are safe. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life.  Public safety should be our absolute number one priority.”

SB 168 will be take effect immediately once Governor Brown signs the bill.  Assemblyman Gatto’s Floor Speech can be viewed here.