U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this week announced that the federal government will have an online registration system in place for drones before thousands of Americans unwrap new ones Christmas morning.

That’s a relief. The past few months have been filled with reports of careless drone operators endangering the public by not following rules about the use of U.S. airspace. Having a database of drone registrations will help authorities track down people who use their aircraft irresponsibly or maliciously.

However, building a registration system is meaningless if no one knows about it. That raises a real concern about how to get the word out to hundreds of thousands of people by Monday, when everyone with a drone that weighs over half a pound will be required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration, pay a $5 fee and affix a tail number to their drone.

Foxx was smart to bring together the associations representing drone makers and users in October to help draft the recommendations that led to this week’s rule. They will no doubt convey the new mandate to their members.

Even if they do, however, that still leaves thousands of people unaware. And though the FAA can impose hefty civil or criminal penalties on people who don’t register, let’s be honest: No one’s going to be rounding up scofflaw owners and dragging them to jail for failing to put a tail number on their toy drone. Nor should they.

But we want people to register, and a voluntary system may not accomplish that. Who’d bother to register their car they didn’t have to? Sooner rather than later, the FAA must consider requiring drones to be registered where they are sold, so that it becomes automatic. With over 1 million drones in the hands of users, many of them novices with little appreciation for the damage they can do, the public shouldn’t be left guessing who owns the drone that crashed into their property or violated their privacy – or worse.

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