Is It Illegal to Drink and Drone?

Under new state laws, yes

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on November 8, 2023

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To say drone use is trendy is an understatement. As of 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported over 1 million drone registrations, including 878,000 hobbyist drones and 122,000 public and commercial drones.

As the number of unmanned flying crafts has grown, so too has the number of incidents:

  • In 2015, a government official crashed his buddy’s drone into the White House lawn.
  • In New Hampshire, a wedding guest was struck in the head by an errant drone and sued for damages from the groom who owned it.
  • In New York, someone crashed a drone into the Empire State Building, and another person crashed one into a U.S. Open Tennis Match.
  • In Washington, a drone pilot was jailed for crashing their drone into someone at a pride parade.

The list of incidents goes on. And legislators have taken notice.

The First State to Enact a Drunk Droning Law

On his last day as Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie signed a bill into law making it a crime to operate a drone or unmanned aircraft under the influence of alcohol, a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug.

Now, if there is an incident with a flying drone, the pilot of the craft may be given a Breathalyzer test by law enforcement and held to the same limit—0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC)—as drunk driving. The new law against drunk droning comes with penalties of up to six months in jail or $1,000 in fines. The actual charge will be a “disorderly persons offense.”

This drone protection bill also makes it illegal to fly drones over prisons, a provision that is aimed at stopping drug trafficking via drone drops. Unmanned pilots of unmanned aircraft systems also face legal ramifications if their drone flights interfere with first responders or other commercial aircraft or if they are used as an aid in hunting wildlife.

Other States Have Enacted Drone Regulations

Many other states have enacted legislation that defines drones and unmanned aircraft systems and criminalizes acting recklessly with them.

And FAA regulations on model aircraft are even more stringent than state laws—holding pilots of model aircraft to similar safety guidelines as commercial airline pilots.

Getting a Criminal Defense Lawyer if You’ve Been Drinking and Droning

With the advent of state and local laws regulating drone use, you may find yourself faced with a charge of drinking while drone flying. Your best bet is to make sure that you are responsibly using your unmanned aircraft in a safe and sober manner.

But if an incident has occurred, consider contacting a reputable and experienced criminal defense attorney to help you. If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our DUI/DWI law overview.

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