Interest in Unmanned Aerial Systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UASs/UAVs or “drones”) has exploded in recent years. Some experts estimate nearly 2.8 million drones will be purchased in the United States this year alone.
As private interest in drones has exploded, state legislatures have also demonstrated a significant interest in regulations on the topic. At last look, there are over 750 introduced or enacted laws where “autonomous aerial system”, “autonomous aerial vehicle”, or “drone” are mentioned in the text. A number of these proposed laws impact law enforcement’s use of UAS/UAV technology and, thus, do not impact non-government drone operation. Similarly, a number of states have enacted, or proposed, commissions to study drone technology or use.
Once laws related to law enforcement use and study commissions are excluded, the picture becomes much clearer. By and large, states are not interested in the wholesale regulation of drone technology. This may be in part because they are waiting to see what the federal government elects to do. It may be in part a hesitance to regulate where specific threats are unknown. Rather than wholesale regulations, state have enacted patchworks of legislation impacting drone operations. One can only assume the patchwork is the result either of specific instance where operators flew drones in an irresponsible manner or the result of very specific concerns. Unfortunately, the patchwork of laws can present problems for some operators, especially if they wish to fly in multiple states. What may be permissible in one state may be prohibited in another state.