In recent years, the number of drones (also called “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS) and “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAV)) being sold in the United States has rapidly increased. Many industries now rely on drones, and more and more members of the public are using them recreationally.
But while the utility and popularity of drones are unquestionable, their widespread use has created concerns about misuse and annoyance. In response to these concerns, lawmakers (at the federal, state, and local levels) have started creating regulations governing the use of drones.
Thus far, much of the legislation has been aimed at restricting drone use near airports and prisons and prohibiting users from employing these devices to invade the privacy or harass other people. However, on Monday, January 15, 2018, New Jersey became the first state to enact a law that bans operating a drone while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
New Jersey Senate Bill 3370—signed by Governor Chris Christie on his last day in office—contains a number of new drone restrictions. However, the portion of the bill that relates to drunk droning essentially applies the standards from the state’s DWI (driving while intoxicated) laws to drone operation. In other words, the law prohibits operating a drone while:
- substantially impaired by drugs or alcohol, or
- having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more.
A violation of the new law is considered a “disorderly persons offense” and carries up to six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 in fines.
The new law will go into effect on May 1, 2018.
However, enforcing the new law could present some difficulties for law enforcement. Unlike with the state’s implied consent laws for driving while intoxicated, there’s nothing in the drunk droning law that compels drone operators to submit to a blood- or breath-alcohol testing. And officers can’t require drone operators suspected of being impaired to participate in field sobriety tests (FSTs). So, in some cases, proving a drone operator’s intoxication or BAC might be challenging.