Future Tense

New Jersey Makes It Illegal to Fly Drones While Drunk

At least 38 states are considering drone laws this year.
At least 38 states are considering drone laws this year.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Gov. Chris Christie signed a law on Monday, his last day in office, making it illegal in New Jersey for people under the influence of drugs or with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher to pilot a drone—the same restrictions that apply to driving a car. Penalties include a six-month jail sentence, a $1,000 fine, or a combination of the two. The law also prohibits people from flying drones to surveil prisons, interfere with first responders, or chase wildlife.

Drunken drone excursions have landed at least one person into trouble in the past. In 2015, an inebriated federal employee accidentally crashed a drone onto the White House grounds. Authorities, however, decided not to press charges after tracking him down.

While it doesn’t appear that flying a drone under the influence has caused any serious damage thus far, it isn’t hard to imagine how even a sober pilot’s unsteady hands could wreak havoc in the skies. In October, a drone flying 1,500 feet above the ground in Quebec crashed into a passenger plane, which sustained minor damage but was able to land safely. Canada’s transportation minister told reporters that the drone could have damaged the engine, potentially leading to “catastrophic results.” The next month, a drone operator in New York flew his unmanned vehicle into a Black Hawk helicopter owned by the U.S. Army, cracking its window frame and leaving a one-and-a-half-inch dent in a rotor blade. (There’s no indication that either drone pilot was under the influence—but imagine if they had been.)

More than 3.1 million drones were sold in the U.S. in 2017, a 28 percent increase from the year before. As recreational drone flying becomes more popular, we can expect more regulations similar to New Jersey’s to come in the near future. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 38 states are looking into laws regulating drone use this year.

So remember: Don’t drink and drone.

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