Avoid The Legal Ramifications Of Recreational Drones

Law Blog

The popular trend of personally owning and operating a drone has experienced explosive growth by hobbyists. Although this is an exciting new technology made available to private individuals, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines drones as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and laws already exist governing such use. In addition, state, city and county legislators are regularly adapting new laws specifically for the operation of drones. The hobbyist should be aware that violation of these established laws might result in criminal charges.

Mandatory Registration of Hobby Drones

Although private use of a drone may be for personal enjoyment, as of Dec. 21, 2015, it is now mandatory for any drone weighing over 0.55 pounds to register with the FAA. Upon registration, the owner will receive a certificate authorizing operation and available if requested by local law enforcement. In addition, it is mandatory to display the registration number on the drone before use.

The consequences for failing to register a drone can result in fines up to $250,000 and up to three years in prison. As well, an operator may also be responsible for civil penalties up to $27,500.

Legal Guidelines for Flying Recreational Drones

The drone's design is beyond the common battery-operated remote controlled toy. Equipped with HD live video and recording capabilities, it has the potential to invade privacy, trespass on private property and cause safety issues. Therefore, some operational restrictions on recreational drones are:

  • Fly in visual eyesight at all times

  • Fly no higher than 400 ft.

  • Weigh less than 55 lbs.

  • Stay 5 miles away from any airport

  • Stay 25 feet away from individuals and property

  • No flying in adverse weather conditions

  • No flying over moving vehicles

  • No flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs

  • No commercial use

Additionally, many cities are now adapting their own laws to prevent endangerment where manned aircraft conduct low-level operations, such as agricultural use and emergency first responders. Other cities have outlawed the flying of drones over libraries, schools, churches and public events. It would be wise to check for any additional laws enacted in your local community.

Use of Local Law Enforcement

Most local law enforcement agencies are prepared to respond quickly to suspicious activity involving drones. Most police officers have the capability of instantly shutting down a drone's operation by jamming the technology. Any alleged violation of law can result in an arrest. If an arrest should occur, it would be wise to contact a criminal defense attorney knowledgeable in such matters.


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