Today, nearly 880,000 drones weighing at least half a pound are authorized to buzz across America’s skies, and that number keeps flying higher. The drone-regulating Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that by 2020, as many as seven million of these unmanned aerial vehicles, as they’re formally called, will be hovering around. As drones become more commonplace, it’s only a matter of time before we hear stories about drones falling from the sky and crashing into cars. That, in turn, raises questions about what auto insurance will and will not cover in this sort of situation. Here's what happens in the event of a drone car collision.
Such an encounter happened recently in Sydney, Australia. In May, trauma nurse Scott Hillsley reported a drone struck his car as he was driving across the landmark Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was the second such occurrence on the bridge within a nine-month span.
“I got halfway across and this object came flying towards my window. It ricocheted off my car and smashed into several pieces,” Hillsley told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I thought, ‘Is it someone throwing a rock or something off the bridge?’”
Hillsley wasn’t hurt, but his car was. It sustained dents and scratches. He was stuck paying a $1,000 insurance deductible to fix the damage because the owner of the drone wasn’t found.
Who pays when a drone drops?
In the U.S., insurance coverage for a drone striking your car depends on whether the owner of the drone is known, according to Loretta Worters, vice president of media relations at the industry-supported Insurance Information Institute.
Generally, if a drone drops out of the sky, damages your car, and the owner of the drone isn’t found, the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy kicks in to cover the damage, Worters says. Of course, you’d need to pay the required deductible first.
Comprehensive coverage is sometimes required by the holder of your car loan, but isn’t required under state insurance laws. This portion of an auto insurance policy helps cover damage to your car that didn’t result from a wreck, Worters says. This includes:
Falling objects like drones
If don’t carry comprehensive coverage and don’t know who the owner of the drone is, then you’d have to pay for drone-caused damage out of your own pocket, Worters says.
What if I know who owns the drone?
If you are aware of who owns the drone, then you’d likely file a claim with your auto insurer, and your insurer would try to recover money from the drone owner’s homeowners or renters insurance company, Worters says. Or the drone owner might submit the claim directly to his or her provider. In either of those cases, Worters says, the drone owner’s homeowners or renters insurance policy — not your auto insurance policy — would cover the drone damage.
I own a drone. What insurance do I need?
For the drone owner, there are two insurance matters to worry about, according to Worters: Property damage inflicted by a drone and legal liability if a drone injures someone. Most standard homeowners and renters insurance policies exclude liability coverage for aircraft, she says, but do include coverage for “model” or “hobby” aircraft, like a personal drone. If you’re a drone owner, you should check with your insurer about what’s covered and what’s not before you send a drone into the air, Worters recommends.
Typically, she says, homeowners or renters insurance taken out by a drone owner covers these drone-related circumstances:
Damage to public or private property
Worters notes that while most homeowners carry homeowners insurance, only about 40% of renters have renters insurance. If a drone-owning renter lacks renters insurance, he or she could be on the hook for damage or injuries caused by a drone. In addition, the drone itself wouldn’t be covered.
What about ‘drone insurance’?
Specialized “drone insurance” is starting to pop up to fill that void. For instance, insurance giant AIG sells AirGuard policies to drone owners that cover both injuries and property damage caused by their unmanned aircraft.
Meanwhile, a startup called Verifly sells drone flight insurance for as little as $10 an hour to both recreational and commercial users. Through a smartphone app, a drone owner can buy as much as $5 million worth of liability coverage.
“Verifly’s on-demand insurance model means users only pay for coverage when they need it,” the company says.
Trying to figure out how much insurance your little monster robot needs? Here’s a Genius guide to drone insurance.