Cities, States Developing Drone Regulations As Technology Grows In Popularity

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As the number of drones flying off store shelves in the United States continues to climb, county and city officials are crafting laws meant to keep the aircraft in check.

Characteristics of localized drone laws in the United States. Courtesy of Bard College.

Across the country, more than 130 localities have passed some sort of law impacting the use of drones, according to a report from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. The report, titled “Drones at Home: Local and State Drone Laws,” delves into these laws and their potential impact on drone users.

“We have identified 133 localities across 31 states that have enacted local rules governing the use
of drones,” report author Arthur Holland Michel writes. “These localities are home to over 30 million people. Of these 133 localities, only three appear to have enacted ordinances that actively
promote the use of drones.”

The rest seek to manage, limit or prohibit the use of drones within the rule-making body’s jurisdiction.

North Dakota has two cities with drone-specific regulations, Grand Forks and Bottineau. The Grand Forks law received special distinction in the report.

Commonly restricted items found in localized drone regulations. Courtesy of Bard College.

“The earliest enacted rule in our database is a 2009 ordinance from Grand Forks, North Dakota, which prohibited the landing or take-off of drones from airports, helipads, or other unauthorized locations,” Holland Michel wrote.

The ordinance applies only to drones weighing more than 55 pounds and doesn’t single them out but rather includes them in a long list of other aircraft such as planes, jets, gliders and blimps.

In Bottineau, the city’s drone ordinance includes an extensive list of regulations for unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds (Full ordinance is here and starts on page 28).

Like many other laws studied by the CSD, Bottineau’s ordinance limits or restricts flying drones in public places, over private property or the age of the operator.

Of the entities studied, 67 restricted the use of drones in public places and 31 prohibited using them to invade the privacy of another. Thirty-two also forbade drone pilots from operating over private property without the owner’s consent.

Though the intention of the laws is to protect privacy and property, some contradict federal guidelines on the use of recreational drones that may result in legal conflicts as the drone industry and federal regulations continue to evolve.

“It appears that the adoption of these rules is largely motivated by a sense that the (Federal Aviation Adminstration)’s regulations are not comprehensive and strict enough to prevent potential abuses of the technology,” Holland Michel wrote.

Some cities have had to revise drone ordinances as local operators have noted conflicts with federal regulations.

To read the report and view the Center for the Study of the Drone’s database of laws, click here.