Drone Legislation Sweeping the Nation as FAA Passes New Regulations

When we launched CodeTalk last month, one of our goals was to not only discuss topics related to the codification industry, but also identify and explore legislative trends. Two topics we discussed in our first week were e-cigarettes and recreational marijuana. As discussed in the marijuana post, the passage (overwhelmingly, we might add) of voter initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado in 2012 didn’t come without backlash. Numerous cities and counties in both states have passed moratoriums on growth, processing and sales of marijuana.

Code Publishing Company editors, who collectively handle thousands of ordinances per year, recognize these trends. And, as 2016 approaches, marijuana may take a back seat to recreational drone restrictions, as the controversial machines are poised to be the hot button issue of the new year.

Currently, only a handful of Code Publishing customers have specific restrictions on the books. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8.60 of the Santa Clara Municipal Code, which bans drones from flying over or near large gatherings and sporting events, including Levi’s Stadium:

…the City is mandating a “no-fly” restriction at all times by unmanned aircraft systems within one-half mile around and over Levi’s® Stadium, over Santa Clara University sports facilities when they are in use, and over large venue special events in public parks and public facilities that will attract large groups of people.

Safety is one of the top concerns regarding unmanned aircraft, and not only in the case of a crashed or weaponized device. Recent interference with emergency services led to Poway (CA) to ban drones during emergency situations. Last summer, drones hindered firefighters’ response to devastating wildfires in California, as aerial firefighting crews couldn’t deliver their payloads as drones hovered over drop points. Thus, Poway approved Ordinance 780 (warning: .PDF), banning drone use during emergencies – including wildfires – in which aerial support could be present. The new law, which extends two miles outside the city limits, goes into effect this month.

Another concern over drones is privacy. Drones are capable of capturing breathtaking footage, and all it takes is a simple GoPro camera attachment. Unfortunately, it’s possible to use them for nefarious purposes, by both law enforcement and recreational users. In 2013, Pierce County (WA) added drones to its unwarranted surveillance policy, banning the use of them unless authorized through proper channels.

In the last few years, all but three states have either passed or have pending legislation regulating drones in some capacity. This map is a good resource for reading all existing and pending legislation. In addition to privacy laws, the FAA announced on Monday its drone registry policy. That’s right, if Santa delivers a drone for Christmas, you’ll have to register it with Uncle Sam. Registration is required on all unmanned aerial vehicles weighing between 250 grams and 55 pounds. Failure to comply carries a fine between $27,500 and $250,000.