An Overview of Drone Regulations by State in the US
It’s no secret that the popularity of drone use and how fast it has grown has caught both the US State and Federal governments by surprise, especially the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The subject of drone regulations and problems with drone use is headline news at least weekly it seems these days. One of the problems is no one really knows for sure what regulations are in place for state and federal governments regarding UAV use. That is why we decided to take a look at the current status of drone regulations recommendations at both the Federal and State level to find out exactly what is up.
Why are state and local governments even discussing drone regulations? There are a number of reasons why drone use has become a concern and something that is garnering some much-needed attention. There have been several incidents in cities such as New York where commercial aircraft have had near collisions with UAV’s on landings and takeoffs from the airports there. Another hot button topic is the number of companies that are looking to use drones commercially. Perhaps the most pressing issue is the sheer number of drones that have been registered in the United States since that regulation was passed by the FAA at the end of 2015 (over 400,000 registered drones in the USA).
Here is what we know and what we think we know about the ever changing world of federal and state drone resolutions and legislation across the USA.
Federal Drone Regulations
First of all, it’s a wonder that we are talking about state drone regulations at all. According to the laws of the United States, the skies over the USA fall under the ‘sole jurisdiction’ of the FAA. The problem is the FAA moved slowly to regulate unmanned aerial vehicle use so the individual states felt compelled to do something in response to that fact.
FAA regulations are also being challenged before many of them have even been put into place. Why you might ask? Because many legal experts state that drones used strictly for hobby purposes and under a certain weight are not supposed to be subject to any FAA regulations.
The FAA is still trying to put firm regulations in place as they have promised to do by the end of 2016. They also are currently testing drone use for commercial applications and are already issuing commercial drone permits on a case by case basis too.
Current State by State Drone Resolutions and Legislation enacted since 2015
There have been a large number of bills, resolutions and other legislation that have been brought before government lawmakers over the last two years. In 2015 alone, 45 states introduced 168 bills for lawmakers to consider. Of that legislation, 20 states added 26 bills into law and another 5 states only enacted resolutions.
Here are some of the most significant drone legislations by state and resolutions that have been passed over the last two years in some states:
Alaska: Only has legislation in place to explore the use of unmanned aircraft as a cost saving alternative to manned flights for surveying and doing safety checks for the Department of Fish & Game.
Arizona: There law interestingly enough says to follow FAA rules which are not complete yet. It also prohibits drones interfering with first responders and operating or photographing with a UAV near a critical facility. There is also a provision that prohibits smaller divisions of government from enacting their own UAV legislation.
Arkansas: In Arkansas, the law states you cannot use a drone to gather information or photograph critical infrastructure or use UAV to conduct acts of voyeurism.
California: Most of the legislation in California has been aimed at curbing the use of drones by paparazzi to get photos and personal information on famous people.
Florida: The laws in Florida regarding UAS’s restrict them from taking video or photos of a person, a person’s family or a person’s property if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.
Hawaii: This state does not have any UAV regulations per say but there are resolutions in place to oversee and fund a drone test site.
Idaho: The UAS regulations in Idaho mostly center around hunting. You cannot use a drone to kill, drive or locate any game animal for hunting purposes.
Illinois: the only drone-related laws in this state have to do with a 2015 resolution to establish a task force to look into enacting possible UAV rules and legislation for the state. In 2016 the drone task force committee was expanded and given a deadline of July 1, 2017, to submit recommendations
Indiana: The Hoosier State specifically ‘allows’ the use of drones to take photos of an accident site. They strictly prohibit any type of UAV use connected to hunting.
Kansas: Kansas is very proactive when it comes to UAV regulations and use. This state has added provisions in their stalking laws that now cover the use of drones in this capacity. They have also allotted money for educational institutions to research drone use and its possibilities for government agencies. Kansas even has a government position called the Director of UAS to be help creative in coming up with ways to encourage the widespread use of drones for commercial purposes.
Louisiana: At one time the only regulations concerning unmanned aircraft here applied only to drones used for agricultural purposes; all that has now changed. Police and other government agencies are allowed to bring down drones if they are deemed a threat to public safety. It is also a crime for a drone to cross a police line no matter how high it is flying. UAV’s may not be used to gather physical evidence and it is strictly prohibited to use them around schools, correctional facilities or other important infrastructure. Voyeurism with drones is also considered a criminal offense and there is also a provision in the legislation to allow the state to charge fees for drone permits.
Maine: UAV regulations in Maine all have to do with people’s legal rights when it comes to drone use by law enforcement agencies. A law enforcement agency must have a warrant for UAS surveillance in order for it to be admissible as evidence in court. Law enforcement also must get approval for buying unmanned aircraft systems and these agencies that get the permits must strictly follow all current FAA regulations regarding unmanned aircraft use.
Oklahoma: Does not allow the use of unmanned aerial vehicles within 400 feet of a critical structure such as a prison.
Oregon: This state has been one of the most active when it comes to unmanned aircraft regulation. They have statutes against using drones for hunting or fishing. There are severe penalties for weaponizing UAV’s and also for operating them around critical infrastructure such as prisons.
Rhode Island: The only legislation passed here so far here is that drone regulations will be determined both by the state itself and the Airport Authority of Rhode Island. Of course there is a caveat in the wording of the legislation that says it is subject to federal laws. It seems Rhode Island made the law as a backup plan in case the FAA does not pass its own regulations before drone use in the state becomes a problem.
Tennessee: In Tennessee, a UAV owner is not allowed to fly a drone within 250 feet of critical infrastructure such as prisons. It also allows the use of UAS’s on behalf of a public or private learning institute but this does not give any other public or private entities the right to do this.
Utah: This is a very active state when it comes to drone use. There are strict penalties for anyone that operates a UAV that gets in the way of aircraft fighting wildfires or operating a drone too close to a wildfire. It is a felony offense if an UAS causes an aircraft to crash and a misdemeanor if a drone impedes an aircraft’s flight path. This bill also gives law enforcement the right to bring down a drone that has been deemed to be operating in an unsafe manner.
Vermont: Like Maine, most of Vermont’s UAV legislation has to do with limiting law enforcement’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles. They also have regulations prohibiting the weaponization of drones.
Virginia: In some localities in this state drone use is strictly prohibited. There is also a bill that gives Virginia Tech University exclusive funding for testing and researching UAS use.
Wisconsin: This state does not allow drones to overfly any type of correctional institution. There are also strict penalties for using UAS’s for such purposes as trapping, hunting or fishing.
What Is the Future for Drone Regulations?
Drone legislation has become such a hot topic among lawmakers that several states are continuing to mull over the type of legislation they need to keep UAV use in check. There is a good possibility that by the time you read this article the drone laws in your state will have been enacted, changed or added too.
So as you can see legislation concerning drone use across the USA is both spotty and inconsistent. This makes it all that much more important that the FAA take control of enacting broad UAS regulations and make it easier for drone users to operate uniformly wherever they choose to operate their UAV’s.
As was mentioned much of what states do in regards to drone regulation will rest on the shoulders of the FAA. Once the FAA gets firm regulations in place on the use of drones then it should alleviate the pressure on the individual states. If the FAA puts out vague or delayed regulations then it will force some states into passing regulations of their own on unmanned aerial vehicle use.
Many other countries around the world will take a close look at the FAA’s drone regulations when they are finalized. You can expect some countries to use these as a precedent for forming drone regulations of their own too. Drone use is not only catching on quickly in the USA but it’s a burgeoning pastime in several countries around the world now. Look for this trend to continue and new drone regulations introduced and older ones being amended to as reaction to this increased drone use.
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