The Week's Features
Rolled-over tanker calls for Hawk’s “Bad Behavior” and more
Extends exemptions for heavy-duty vehicles
Settles alleged illegal repo of two servicemen
Series is the exclusive transmissions for International CV Series
Company’s “billboard and image” roams the expansive West
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Is Your Drone Use ... Legal?

pexels d4430By Brian J Riker

Drones have exploded in popularity in recent years and now towmen are using them in creative ways to promote their business, showcase abilities or even help collect documentation for invoicing. American Towman even used drone footage in the coverage of the inaugural Spirit Ride from Las Vegas two years ago.

As cool as this technology is, do you have the legal certifications required for the commercial usage of these drones and the resulting video footage? I am willing to bet that answer is likely no.

In an effort to protect American airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration has developed regulations and standards for the use of model aircraft and other unmanned flight systems such as drones.

The FAA regulates commercial usage of drones as subject to 14 CFR Part 107. Typically, if you are not flying recreationally as a hobbyist under Section 336, your use requires certification by the FAA. The FAA uses ordinary definitions of hobbyist, meaning it must be for relaxation and distinctly separate from your occupation.

Your drone must be registered with the FAA and comply with all applicable regulations.

I will focus on commercial applications since that is what flying a drone becomes once you use it to document your work—especially if you then use the footage for promotion, training or billing. This type of flight usually will require compliance with Part 107 regulations including:

Registering your drone with the FAA if it weighs more than .55 lbs.

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) pilot certification or Section 333 waiver.

Notifying nearby airports and control towers (if within five miles of such).

Waivers to fly over or near emergency response scenes.

Waivers to fly directly over people.

Display registration number on drone and carry your certificate.

Stay within Class G airspace (400' ceiling, maintain visual contact).

Fly only during daylight hours or civil twilight without a waiver.

The visual contact rule further complicates the use of drones during poor weather.

The FAA has developed a mobile app, B4UFLY, to help drone operators determine if they are in restricted airspace or are free to deploy their aircraft. I highly recommend using the app to help keep you in compliance.

Perhaps the most problematic for towmen is the restrictions on flying near emergency response scenes or over people: both conditions are usually present in our daily work environments. The FAA restricts airspace near emergencies such as wildfires, hurricanes and other emergency scenes where aircraft may be part of the response effort.

To legally deploy drones over people or at emergency scenes you may be required to obtain waivers for use in temporarily restricted airspace. Depending on the agency that is restricting the airspace, a UAS pilot may need to obtain permission from an agency other than the FAA.

Other restrictions to airspace involve national security. For example, Washington, D.C., has the most restricted airspace in the country. All drone use is prohibited within the inner loop, a 15-mile radius. Limited deployment of drones is permissible in the outer loop, a 30-mile radius around D.C. Other areas near military bases, some power plants and stadiums or sporting events are also restricted.

Another consideration regarding aerial photography with drones is privacy. It is always a good idea to protect the identity of your customers, especially when their vehicles are found in a compromising position.

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and the following is not legal advice. Check with your attorney for specific rules on privacy in your area.)

What about protecting the privacy of individuals who are bystanders? It may be permissible to capture video in public areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy; however audio may be restricted by various state laws. It is always a good idea to obtain signed waivers from anyone in a video that may be published, especially if they did not have direct knowledge of their participation prior to filming.

Drones are a great new tool in our toolbox. The video can help prevent future mistakes when reviewed as part of an after-action briefing. It can help us justify our invoice on complex recoveries ... and it looks cool when used as promotion material.

My last word of caution, and this applies to conventional photographs as well as video footage: Make sure what is released publicly depicts proper procedures and portrays a positive image unless used in a training environment. Keep in mind that regulatory agencies such as OSHA look at public forums and can initiate an investigation based off a news report or other public display of wrongdoing.

Stop Bitchin’—Start Doin’!

Capitol-pic-600x400 copy 28945Brian J. Riker

Are you sick and tired of things happening to you rather than controlling your own destiny? I know I am. Quit bitching about it and do something; it really is that simple.

I attended the Towing and Recovery Association of America's Legislative Action Day event this past week. The title is really a misnomer, as we were in Washington, D.C. for the better part of last week hosting or attending meetings with legislators and regulators. We did something and made a difference.

I had a chance to participate in a conversation with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's No. 1 person, Administrator Ray Martinez. What a guy, really one of the easiest people to speak with. He truly is interested in what we have to say and sympathetic to our plight. He was just one of many officials TRAA had a chance to influence.

He assured me and the industry that our requests for flexibility in Hours of Service have not fallen on deaf ears.

Although not at liberty to release anything further publicly, his office is in the process of reworking HOS regulations in a way that should be beneficial to many small motor carriers like the average tower.

Another great guest speaker was Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA). McGovern comes from a working class family in Massachusetts, first elected to the House in 1996. He is supportive of our industry and gave the audience some sage advice on getting favorable legislation passed.

McGovern strongly advised towers to come prepared when they meet with their legislative representatives. Don't come in with a complaint without offering at least a few viable solutions. It is best to come prepared with a focused topic and supporting documentation, including proposed regulatory or legislative language. Give the lawmaker a ready-to-implement solution that is fair to all parties involved.

Roadside safety was also a hot topic with Federal Highway Administration's SHRP2 Program Manager James Austrich presenting to the group about roadside worker safety.

From Jan. 1 to March 8 this year, there have already been 26 reported roadside fatalities, 10 of which were towers. Austrich called these "struck-by" incidents a phenomenon of epidemic proportions. Although Traffic Incident Management training has gained widespread acceptance in its seventh year with nearly 400,000 roadside personnel trained, it is not enough.

Austrich said FHWA needs data to support better solutions for roadside safety, calling for towers to self-report near-miss and struck-by incidents to the Towing Traffic Incident Reporting System. The TTIRS, created in 2015, collects data that is used to support funding requests for training, support of the slow down move over laws as well as support for public awareness campaigns.

Although the current data is useful, it will be much more powerful when more of the near-miss and struck-by events are recorded.

Legislative Action Day was a success. As an industry we have come a long way; however we have even further to go. Now is the time to speak up and become involved. Our industry is under attack from all sides, most notably from the insurance and trucking industries. They have well-funded lobbyists, political action committees and various other resources we can only dream of at the moment.

Now is the time to get things done politically—and I mean right now. Congress is in session, bills are being introduced daily and it is before the appropriations process. If you don't get your legislation into the hands of the correct committees right now there is no chance it will make it into law this year.

The process requires review on several levels with perhaps the most important being the appropriations level. If they can't pay for it, they won't enact it!

Unfortunately, there are still several states without a towing association. There are also a few where the towing association is simply a committee within the trucking association.

We have so little self-respect that we can't find the time or common ground among fellow towers to band together. Since we are all in this together, we need to learn to work together for the common good of the industry. There is strength in numbers. This is your call to action. Will you do something ... or just stand there bitching when the world changes around you?

Brian J. Riker is a third-generation towman and president of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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