US Drone Laws – What You Need To Know

Asking for a drone this Christmas? There are few gadgets out there that feel more Bond-like or more exciting – and the ability to fly anywhere and do pretty much anything is highly exhilarating.

But before you get too excited, you might want to double check the laws in your state. It turns out that some drone pilots in the US are having their wings clipped thanks to strict laws that prevent flying in certain areas or under certain conditions. To find out how the law applies to you, keep reading and we’ll look at precisely what the law says with regards to drone and how you should proceed.

The Problem

As it turns out, there are no laws in most states yet that specifically apply to drones. The laws currently apply to model aircraft but not specifically drones but the hope is that something more concrete will be drawn up soon.

What are creating some controversy and confusion though, are cases of drone owners being prosecuted. In 2013 for instance, a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) flew over Manhattan and collided with several buildings, eventually crashing into the pavement. The man responsible was arrested days later and ultimately fined $2,200 by the Federal Aviation Administration. He was charged with reckless endangerment and the UAV was quoted as saying he was ‘flying in restricted airspace without getting permission from controllers’. He was also accused of ‘flying in a careless or reckless manner’ which ‘endangered the safety of the national airspace system’.

In 2015 a man (who it turned out was drunk) ended up landing a drone on the Capitol lawn.

The point is, that the law surrounding drone use is currently still shaky but needs to be defined pronto seeing as the things can be used to wreak all sorts of havoc. And we’re learning that the law enforcement agencies aren’t afraid to take action against people who get up to that kind of mischief.

Meanwhile, numerous states are moving in with their own laws regarding drones – such as Texas and Florida where legislation has already been enacted. Meanwhile, lobbyists and various groups are making known their opinions in a bid to help shape future legislation. The Motion Picture Association of America for instance has stated its support for an FAA exemption for the use of small drones in low risk scenarios for film and television production.

Can You Use Your Drone?

In all likelihood though, you’re probably not too bothered about all that. The question is: can you buy a drone and start having fun with it?

And the answer is, on the whole, yes.

Flying drones and other model aircraft is going to be fine if you’re on your own private property, if the device is relatively small (the FAA defines model aircraft as under 55lbs) and you’re not trying to land it on the Whitehouse lawn.

Avoid flying near people and giving them buzz haircuts and make sure you’re not flying around airports.

The FAA has released a poster attempting to clarify some of these points:

US Drown Laws - Cheatsheet Infographic

Some of these rules are likely a little strict too even – for instance, flying a FPV drone out of your line of sight is unlikely to result in a fine if you’re in a safe environment.

At the end of the day, if you buy a model drone on the web and use it to film yourself in the garden or to chase the dog, then you’re not going to get a knock on your door any time soon. Use a bit of common sense, try not to injure anyone and avoid anything that could be mistaken for an alien invasion…

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