Déjà Vu As UK Media Starts 2019 With More Drone Scaremongering

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After a Christmas period that served up plenty of drone-related angst in the UK, it looks as though 2019 is set to feature more of the same. The trauma of the Battle of Gatwick is starting to fade, like a drunken Christmas party incident that everyone involved in is now too embarrassed to reflect upon. Or talk about. Or take responsibility for.

Maybe we can just pretend it never happened?

But drone stories – particularly negative ones – are still fair game and in high demand. As 2019 gets underway we already have some transport disruption news that unfairly picks out a drone as being responsible.

Read more: Could Manufacturers Do More to Ease the Drone Industry’s Collision Anxiety?

‘Drone incident’ shuts down Severn Bridge?

The Times, Sky News, Gizmodo UK and several other publications have all picked up on the same story. As well as the BBC, the UK’s publicly-funded, go-to service for balanced and honest news reporting. The news is this:

The Severn Bridge, a mile-long suspension bridge operated by Highways England between England and South-East Wales, was briefly closed on New Year’s Eve after CCTV showed a person attempting to climb up to its summit – a feat notoriously achieved and filmed by some Youtube thrillseekers in February 2018.

Police arrived on the scene, arrested the climber and charged him with ‘causing a public nuisance’ after the bridge was shut down for 30 minutes due to a “concern for welfare” – presumably that of the climber’s and the delayed motorists tempted to throw him off the bridge for his troubles.

So that was the news. Not a huge story, yet it made national headlines across the UK because, you guessed it, a drone was involved. It turns out the climber had a drone with him. Perhaps the idea was to get some footage of himself on top of the structure. We don’t know.

So in the context of what happened at Gatwick a couple of weeks ago, the drone element was key to the story. Here are a few headlines, including our favorite: MAN’S DRONE RAMPAGE CLOSES SEVERN BRIDGE.

drone closes severn bridge what happened?

It’s worth bearing in mind that journalists don’t always have control over the headlines. But the content in many of the articles still plays up the drone’s involvement.

Read more: UK Prison Stats Offer Perspective on Issue of Illegal Drone Smuggling

A Quick Reality Check

It’s easy enough for reporters to find out that it wasn’t the presence of a drone that forced the bridge to close, but the man climbing it. This kind of distinction is important if we are to have an honest, adult conversation about drone technology, its risks and its many benefits. Not to mention news publications that we can trust to give us balanced accounts of events.

Of course, we understand that most publications need clicks to get readers to get advertising money. But the BBC certainly does not, so we’d expect more transparent reporting from them at least.

Below, Highways England confirms that the drone wasn’t the reason for the authorities being called or the bridge being closed. They didn’t know about it until later on.

It’s likely that this will be the first of many similar stories heading into 2019. We’ll do our best to give you a more balanced assessment of what actually happened as and when they come up.


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