It's Illegal to Drink and Drone

Under New Jersey law, you could face six months in jail

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Last updated on January 19, 2023

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To say drone use is trendy is an understatement. (The Federal Aviation Administration had over 770,000 drone registrations by March 2017.) But 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 gay pride parade. The list of incidents goes on. And legislators have taken notice.

The New Jersey Law

On Gov. Chris Christie’s last day in office, on Jan. 15, 2017, he signed into law a bill that makes 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—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, other commercial aircraft, or if they are used as an aid in hunting wildlife. Many other states have enacted legislation that defines drones and unmanned aircraft systems and criminalizes acting recklessly with them. And the FAA regulations on model aircraft are even more stringent than the New Jersey law—holding pilots of model aircraft to the similar standards as commercial airline pilots. With New Jersey’s law, and those to come in other jurisdictions, you may find yourself faced with a charge of drinking while droning. Your best bet is to make sure that you are responsibly using your unmanned aircraft in a safe and sober manner. But if a mistake has happened, 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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