Americans support using unmanned aircraft for patrolling borders and tracking down criminals, but not handing out speeding tickets, a new poll finds.
The poll by Monmouth University Polling Institute comes in anticipation of drones becoming much more common in the skies. Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to create a plan for drones to fly in general airspace by September 2015, and states are competing to become one of six locations to help develop that plan.
The poll also arrives as the public becomes more aware of privacy concerns and dangers of drones. A Navy drone crashed Monday in Maryland during a test flight. The poll was conducted before the crash and didn’t ask about safety concerns.
The poll of 1,708 people June 4-6, which has a margin of error of +/-2.4 percentage points, found:
In addition, four out of five voiced at least some concerns about their privacy if law enforcement officers used drones with high-tech cameras.
“Americans clearly support using drone technology in special circumstances, but they are a bit leery of more routine use by local law enforcement agencies,” poll director Patrick Murray said.
Ben Gielow, general counsel of the industry group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said the poll demonstrates that people understand the benefits of using the aircraft in dangerous situations such as searches, fires and disasters.
“Unmanned aircraft help save time, save money and, most importantly, save lives,” Gielow said.
Drones come in a variety of sizes, weighing from a few ounces to thousands of pounds. Military versions — the Global Hawk for surveillance and the Predator with weapons — fly routinely in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.
Local police and firefighters are eager to use small drones to scout a fire, survey an accident scene or track down missing persons at a fraction of the cost of a manned helicopter. The Department of Homeland Security has a few drones to patrol the borders.
In legislation signed into law in February, Congress set up a series of deadlines for drones to increasingly share the airspace with passenger planes.
The issues are complex, including how to ensure the aircraft are safe and how to prevent them from colliding with passenger aircraft.
The Navy is investigating what caused the crash of a version of a Global Hawk, called a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator, in a swampy area of eastern Maryland. The Navy has flown drones more than 5,500 hours for combat surveillance since 2008.
The Air Force is edging away from the Global Hawk to rely more on U-2 manned spy planes.