bike race drone crash

A DJI Phantom crashed into a bike race — causing the cyclist to fly over the handles

This is an excerpt from a story originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire piece here.

Just when you thought getting doored was the most traumatizing thing that could happen to you as a cyclist, now there are vehicles in the sky you need to watch out for.

A DJI Phantom drone flying over cyclists on May 6 during the Golden State Race Series in Rancho Cordova, Calif. hit a tree, crashing into a rider’s front wheel. The cyclist was able to bike a bit further down the road, until the drone locked up the front wheel, causing the biker to fly over the handle bars.

Another biker, Kaito Clarke, who was using a Garmin Virb camera to video his race, captured the whole drone collision on camera, which he then posted to YouTube. Watch the drone collision here, which starts around the 30-second mark and replays again in slow motion:

The cyclist suffered a gravel rash and the drone pilot, who immediately came forward to admit it was his device, offered to purchase a new bike for the injured cyclist.

This isn’t the first crash from a drone made by DJI, which has what analysts say is a 70% market share of the drone market. In 2015, a Phantom drone belonging to a government employee crashed near the White House. DJI attempted to mitigate that and future situations by putting a virtual fence on its drones, building software that prevents them from flying within a 15.5-mile radius of downtown Washington, D.C.

As drones become more commonplace, drone crashes like this could happen a lot more frequently. People bought 2.4 million hobbyist drones in the U.S. in 2016, more than double the 1.1 million sold in 2015, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The Federal Aviation Administration created new rules in 2016 that make it illegal for commercial drone operators in the U.S. to fly drones over people not directly participating in the operation. Only two companies have waivers exempting them from those rules — FLIR, which makes thermal cameras used on drones, and CNN, which tethers its drones to the ground for safety.

The FAA’s rules around hobby drone operators — meaning people flying drones not for profit — are significantly less strict. Hobby drone pilots are supposed to follow safety guidelines developed by groups such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which say you should not intentionally fly over people. But those are guidelines, not rules, meaning that the drone pilot flying over this race may not have broken any rules if they weren’t flying for commercial purposes.

3 thoughts on “A DJI Phantom crashed into a bike race — causing the cyclist to fly over the handles”

  1. Hey Sally,
    That was a very interesting story and the cyclist was fortunate not to have been more seriously injured. However, isn’t there a limit as to how close a drone can be in a situation like that?

  2. People need to use some sense when flying their drones. This guy was injured, albeit not too seriously, but, even worse than that, he had to stop competing in something which is his passion.

    I’m sure he’s pissed off plenty.

    It’s stuff like this which gives drones a bad name, and we, drone owners, need to understand that we need to do more to make sure we don’t create a bad rep for all of us.

    Simply put, don’t fly your drone over people, or in place which could create such situations – you can still get great video by not flying so close.

  3. OK. Sorry, but the cyclist was as much of an idiot as the Phantom pilot. The Phantom crashed through the tree and hit the ground immediately in front of the cyclist, striking his front tire/wheel along the way and getting caught up in the front forks. If the cyclist had come to an immediate stop rather than continuing on with debris lodged in and around his front wheel he would have never gone head over handlebars. This is no different than if the rider in front of him kicked up a stick or other obstruction from the roadway and it got lodged in the front rim. But the rider was so “focused on winning” (or based on his position in the pack just “competing”) that he forwent common sense and kept on until the front wheel locked up and forced him to crash.

    Bouncing off a tree appears to be pilot error. Doesn’t matter whether it was from bad (or zero) piloting skills, or a mechanical failure. Ultimately that part of the incident was his fault.

    But the “head over” crash…. THAT was purely the fault of the rider and he had plenty of time to complete a safe stop after making contact with the Phantom before he flipped. It wasn’t much more of a spill than that which paralyzed Superman (Christopher Reeves) and ultimately lead to his early death.

    We are each responsible for our own actions.

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