As consumer drones become increasingly settled in the mainstream, it seems inevitable that they’d also annoy more and more people. In the UK, the number of reports to the police concerning drone activity increased threefold between 2015 and 2016, and twelvefold compared to 2014. According to data obtained by the Press Association through freedom of information requests, complaints about drones ranged from allegations of neighbors using the craft to peep over fences to burglars conducting reconnaissance on houses. More high-profile reports included near-misses with commercial aircraft and the use of drones to smuggle contraband into prison.
In the UK in 2014 there were 283 reports to the police concerning drones. This rose to 1,237 reports in 2015, and 3,456 reports in 2016 — almost one complaint a day. This data is incomplete, though, as not all police forces in the UK keep a tally of incidents regarding drones. That means the real total is likely higher.
Last July, a 27-year-old man became the first person to be jailed in the UK for using a drone to fly packages into prisons. Daniel Kelly used an aircraft built by DJI to smuggle tobacco and psychoactive drug Spice into a number of facilities.
Near-misses with aircraft have also attracted plenty of attention, although sometimes it seems the fear of drones overtake the reality. One incident in early 2016 in which it was initially reported that a drone clipped a commercial jet landing in London’s Heathrow airport turned out to have been a false alarm, with the rogue flying object in question more likely to have been a plastic bag.
More prosaically, the UK’s complaints to the police include a number of accusations of peeping on neighbors, including one report in Suffolk in which a drone was flown repeatedly over a garden where teenage girls were sunbathing. “Previously you had a hedge, you had a wall, and you could do whatever you wanted in your garden without people disturbing you,” Professor David H Dunn of Birmingham University told the Press Association. “That has changed because of drones.”