As emerging technologies make their way into the agriculture industry, they bring new opportunities and advantages to farmers. Occasionally, they present new hazards as well.
Drones are a perfect example of this phenomenon. In August, the Washington Post reported that there have been more than 700 “close call” incidents between drones and piloted aircraft since the year began. That’s bad buzz for an emerging technology that is not totally cleared (at least commercially) by the FAA.
Several groups are taking measures to make drones as safe as possible – and to have contingency plans in place when accidents do happen.
The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies revealed a white paper earlier in 2015 that examine potential insurance issues around commercial drones. Tom Karol, general counsel, says there are complicated issues still at play that need to be resolved before drone users can adequately protect themselves from potential loss.
“Mechanical things in the sky have a nasty proclivity to sometimes fall in unexpected ways and places,” he says. “As the commercial applications of drones continue to grow, so will the potential for crashes, damage, loss and injuries, all of which will carry an added potential for liability. Insurance professionals who best understand the issues can gain tremendous opportunities to help their policyholders.”
There’s certainly room for growth, NAMIC notes, estimating that only 3% of drones operated today are flying insured. But as the white paper notes, there will always be risks when operating a drone, so property and casualty insurance must be a part of the picture. NAMIC says it is committed to working to develop legal and regulatory policy that protects “aircraft, people, businesses and property.”
Meantime, an educational effort has also emerged called “Know Before You Fly.” Developed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the Small UAV Coalition, and in partnership with the FAA, the initiative is actively promoting safe and responsible drone use.
Know Before You Fly offers some practical “do’s and don’ts” for first-time flyers, including:
- Do follow community-based safety guidelines, such as the ones developed by AMA.
- Don’t fly higher than 400 feet.
- Do keep a line of sight with your drone at all times.
- Don’t interfere and remain well clear of all manned aircraft.
- Don’t fly your drone over people or moving vehicles.
- Do check and follow all local laws and ordinances.
- Don’t take photos of other people or property without their permission.
- Don’t fly over sensitive infrastructure. Examples include power stations, government facilities and heavily traveled roadways.
- Do fly in safe weather conditions. Be careful when there are high winds or reduced visibility.
- Don’t fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Do contact the airport or control tower if you plan on flying within five miles of an airport.
Another emerging technology that will find its way to the farm someday soon is autonomous machinery. And Todd Janzen, former Kansas farmer and current practicing attorney in Indiana, points out there will be some obvious liability issues that will arise when self-driving farm equipment is a reality.
“Accident risks are huge,” he says. “Google’s self-driving cars are tiny and probably would ‘bounce’ off another car in a collision. But a new 4WD tractor that runs out of control is not going to stop when it collides with vehicles or buildings.”
Sensor technology could go a long way in preventing autonomous tractor accidents, Janzen says. Even though accidents can be minimized, they are still likely to happen, he adds. And when they do – who’s at fault?
“Manufacturers will blame the farmer for not calibrating or setting up the equipment properly, and the farmer will blame the manufacturer for a design flaw,” he says. “Equipment manufacturers don’t want or need this problem.”