“Drunk Droning” Makes Good Headlines for NJ Law

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By Smallbones (Own work) [CC0]

The state of New Jersey is about to enact a law that will prohibit operating a drone under the influence, Reuters reports – but that’s not all the law will do.

“Drunk droning” makes good headlines – and while operating a drone under the influence is 1) already against federal regulations, and 2) contrary to common sense, the headline has served to bring public opinion around to support a drone regulation bill that is more comprehensive than most reports suggest.

The bill not only prohibits drone operation under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but also operating “knowingly or intentionally in a manner that endangers the life or property of another,” says the bill text.  In addition, there are restrictions on drone flight over prisons, drone use for hunting, or interference with emergency response.

To this point, the bill seems merely to reiterate reasonable behavior, providing NJ law enforcement with tools for dealing with rogue operators.  But the final sections of the bill introduce new limitations with the potential to create unintended precedents.  The proposal also identifies operation of a drone within a certain distance of an individual as violation of any restraining order against the operator.

The bill also provides that it is a violation of a restraining order or any other court order restraining contact with a person or location for a person who is subject to that order to operate a drone within a distance of a person or location that would violate the order.

Perhaps most notable in the bill is the prevention of individuals convicted of certain sex crimes from operating drones, as a condition of their lifelong parole.

In addition, under the bill, a special sentence of parole supervision for life may include reasonable conditions prohibiting or restricting a person’s operation of a drone in order to reduce the likelihood or recurrence of criminal or delinquent behavior.

These provisions may – or may not – meet with the approval of the people of New Jersey, but they are based on the understanding of drones as currently used for recreation, rather than the future potential for widespread use in commercial environments and public services.  Such provisions may need to be carefully considered for future unintended consequences, like unreasonably limiting job opportunities or access to public services.

The proposed NJ Bill, which has been passed by the Senate and scheduled to be voted on by the Assembly Monday, is not new to the state.  The bill was twice “pocket vetoed” by Governor Chris Christie last year; this year he must vote it into law in the next two weeks before his term in office ends or lawmakers will have to try again.


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