Drones sought to help with traffic crashes

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State highway officials want a Florida law changed so they can use drones to help manage traffic crashes.

As part of its "legislative concepts" for the 2017 legislative session, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants to create a pilot program with the Department of Transportation to use drones in managing and clearing accident scenes.

"That will enable us to clear the roads quicker and enable the public to travel during those blocked lanes, especially when we have those larger crashes," Jennifer Langston, legislative affairs administrator for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, told Cabinet aides on Wednesday.

The proposal, which will be discussed Tuesday at a meeting of Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, is coming because of a 2013 state law that prohibits the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by law enforcement for surveillance and evidence gathering.

"This prohibits the FHP (the Florida Highway Patrol) from collecting evidence from traffic crashes," the agency's "legislative concepts" said. "There is potential for drone use by the FHP for complex traffic crash scenes where aerial photos and aerial scene mapping can aid in clearing the roads more expeditiously."

The 2013 law, signed by Scott, limits the use of automated surveillance aircraft by law enforcement unless a judge issues a warrant, there is a "high risk of terrorist attack" or officials fear someone is in imminent danger.

"This law will ensure the rights of Florida families are protected from the unwarranted use of drones and other unmanned aircraft," Scott said in a statement in 2013 that praised the measure's sponsors, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Negron will become Senate president next month.

News Service of Florida