Unmanned aerial systems (UASs), more commonly known as drones, have recently achieved commercial success for many public and private applications. As with all emerging technologies, new safety concerns and conflicts with existing paradigms are likely to arise. Many potential applications of UASs will result in their operation near roadway infrastructure, possibly distracting drivers and decreasing the safety of both drivers and UAS operators. This study approached this emerging challenge in three phases. The first phase explored the evidence that drivers are distracted by UASs near roadways. The second phase interpreted this evidence and studied the current policy network to propose effective and applicable policies to address this safety issue. The third phase continued the process and investigated mitigation strategies to improve safety when UASs are used for an official application near roadways such as surveying.
The Oregon State University (OSU) driving simulator was used in conjunction with a survey questionnaire to evaluate driver distraction and provide recommendations for policy and mitigations strategies to limit the safety risks associated with UASs operating near roadways. Results showed that UAS’s can cause drivers to make risky glances away from the roadway. These glances are more likely in rural environments and when the UAS operation is immediately adjacent to the roadway. Based on the characteristics of the evidence of the safety concerns, policy recommendations and mitigation strategies were developed and evaluated.
In summary, the recommendations based on this work suggest the limiting of UAS operations within 25ft of the edge of the road and more strongly considering this limitation in rural areas. When UAS are implemented at the roadside for official activities such as surveying or geomatics engineering, existing sign options do not depict or reference UASs. New UAS specific signs were developed and evaluated, and three of these signs were found to be more effective than the currently adopted sign for general surveying operations. In summary, as research like this works to define the safety risks and establish reasonable boundaries, UASs will be more effective and continue to be implemented for various applications.