New North Carolina Drone Laws Take Flight Dec. 1

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For North Carolina drone users, December ‘tis the season to be … educated about new UAS laws.

The NCDOT reminded unmanned pilots this week that two new laws go into effect on Dec. 1. Both were passed in July and the bills both revise current drone laws and introduce new restrictions.

“As drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), become more common, North Carolina’s laws are changing to stay up-to-date with this fast-growing industry,” an NCDOT spokesperson said.

House Bill 128 prohibits UAV flights near prisons, jails and other correctional facilities. Near is “defined as a horizontal distance of 500 feet or a vertical distance of 250 feet [and] signs will be placed around facilities to remind drone users of the boundaries.” Violators could be fined $500 as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

A drone pilot who attempts to deliver contraband – drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and phones – into such a facility will face a Class 1 felony and a $1,000 fine. For either violation, the state is authorized to confiscate the offending drone.

House Bill 337 clarifies that drone laws do not apply to model aircraft and that “users are still exempt from the state’s permitting requirements.”

The bill also changes restrictions on drone use by public safety agencies. Emergency management agencies will be able to deploy drones to respond to crisis situations and utilize special imaging technology. NCDOT explains:

“The use of technologies such as thermal and infrared was previously only permitted for scientific purposes. The removal of the restriction allows private and commercial operators to assist law enforcement with emergency management efforts such as search and rescue operations.”
The agency stated the state’s UAS Knowledge Test Study Guide has been updated to reflect new laws and the guide can be accessed at N.C. Division of Aviation website.

This past year has proven busy for the NCDOT in terms of drone issues. In April, NCDOT created a set of best practices for drone use in disaster analysis, search-and-rescue and other government responses. The final report was released after NCDOT’s Division of Aviation held a workshop with emergency management officials.

In September, the agency released a feasibility study last week with a plan to use drones to create 3D models of auto crash scenes.

During a recent training event in which a collision was simulated, a drone team reduced the time needed to perform an accurate reconstruction from 1 hour 51 minutes to just 25 minutes.


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