New Jersey state legislators approved a ban on operating drones while inebriated on Monday, approving legislation that would punish drunk or high pilots with up to six months in prison or a $1,000 fine 39-0 in the State Senate and 65-0 in the State Assembly.
The bill is all but set to become law, though when is unclear. Gov. Chris Christie has not commented on whether he approves of the bill; he’s pocket-vetoed prior legislation to regulate law enforcement use of drones, but since this one deals with civilian use, it’s less likely he’d have a problem with it. Christie’s term expires on January 16th, though, so it’s possible the bill will have to be punted to a new legislative session and Democratic governor-elect Phil Murphy to sign if it passes again.
There doesn’t appear to be any specific minimum size listed for drones it would be illegal to drunkenly operate in New Jersey in the version of the bill posted to the legislature’s web site, though it does use the standard 0.08 blood alcohol concentration level as a definition of what constitutes being too drunk to fly.
Per Newsweek, Democratic sponsor Assemblywoman Annette Quijano said in a statement that drones are becoming “increasingly disruptive” and prohibiting inebriated piloting could prevent “dangerous situations” like near-collisions with aircraft and interference with fire-control operations. John Sullivan, a New York-based “drone buff and aerial cinematographer,” told Reuters he worried about regulatory overreach but admitted that flying drones is “basically like flying a blender.”
The bill also establishes similar penalties for using drones to hunt or endanger people and property, as well as stiffer penalties for interfering with correctional facilities or emergency personnel, per CBS News.
While there hasn’t exactly been a huge spate of drone accidents, advocates for tighter regulation have noted that every passing year there are more unmanned aerial vehicles in the sky with an associated higher danger that something could go wrong. One particular impetus was a 2015 incident in which a drunken National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency employee accidentally flew a two-by-two-foot DJI Phantom onto the White House grounds, bypassing Secret Service security.
“The use of drones has increased dramatically in recent years for a variety of purposes,” State Sen. Paul Sario told NJ.com. “There are many benefits for commercial and recreational purposes but they can also pose threats to safety, security and privacy. The technology has outpaced regulations ... There are more unmanned drones in the country than piloted aircraft.”