New Jersey poised to slap ban on drunken droning

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 January, 2018, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 7:26pm

US drone sales in 2017 topped US$1 billion for the first time ever, but do not raise a glass to celebrate too quickly if you are in New Jersey, where lawmakers on Thursday are poised to outlaw drunken droning.

It is one of a wave of US states moving to bring the unmanned aircraft’ high-flying fun back to Earth.

New Jersey’s Assembly on is slated to vote on a Senate-approved bill to ban inebriated or drugged droning, as well as outlaw flying unmanned aircraft systems over prisons and in pursuit of wildlife.

“It’s basically like flying a blender,” said John Sullivan, 41, of New York, a drone buff and aerial cinematographer. He said he opposed drunk droning but also fretted about regulatory overreach. “If I had like one drink, I’d be hesitant to even fly it.”

A 2015 drone crash on the White House lawn fuelled debate in the US Congress over the need for drone regulations.

It was a drunken, off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who flew the 60cm by 60cm “quadcopter” from a friend’s flat balcony and lost control of it over the grounds surrounding the White House, The New York Times reported.

New statistics set for release next week show 3.1 million drones were sold in the US last year, up 28 per cent from 2016, said Richard Kowalski, manager for Consumer Technology Association.

“This was the first year that drone revenues reached US$1 billion,” Kowalksi said.

New Jersey is among at least 38 states considering restrictions on the devices this legislative year, including Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, said Amanda Essex, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Like any technology, drones have the ability to be used for good, but they also provide new opportunities for bad actors,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Elizabeth, New Jersey. She backed the bill, which would impose a punishment of up to six months prison and a US$1,000 fine for drunk droning.

Already, nine states prohibit drones from operating near or over prisons, including Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, Essex said.

A drone carrying wire cutters and a mobile phone probably helped a prisoner’s escape in July from a maximum-security prison in South Carolina, officials said.