By 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts 10 times as many commercial drones and more than triple the number of hobby drones will be in the skies. If their predictions are correct, that means there will be more than 3.5 million recreational drones zooming around the country in less than five years.
Currently, there are more than 20,0000 drones registered in North Carolina alone. Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are aircrafts controlled by an operator on the ground, rather than a pilot onboard.
Drone use is regulated on a federal level by the FAA, and on a state level by the North Carolina Department of Public Transportation (NCDOT).
With drone popularity surging and technology moving at such a rapid pace, lawmakers are scrambling to keep up. As more complications and concerns arise because of drones, the state continues to introduce new, stricter legislation.
One example? North Carolina passed a law in 2014 stating drones may not be used for surveillance of a person, property, or occupied dwelling without that person’s consent.
A number of drone-related incidents have already sparked controversy and call for more stringent legislation. Individuals and businesses have expressed privacy concerns after spotting drones in places where they don’t belong, worried drones could be videoing apartment residents, customers, and property.
What You Need to Know about Operating Drones in North Carolina
If you are a recreational drone operator in North Carolina, it’s important to abide by the regulations put forth by the FAA and NCDOT. We’ve outlined the official rules below:
- Always fly below an altitude of 400 feet, and fly within your direct line of sight.
- Be aware of FAA airspace requirements
- Do not fly near stadiums, public events, or directly over people.
- Do not fly near aircraft, especially near airports.
- Do not fly near emergency response efforts such as fires or hurricane recovery efforts.
- Do not fly at night.
- Do not fly a UAS/drone that weighs more than 55 pounds.
What You Need to Know about Drones and North Carolina Stalking Laws
In addition to the actions addressed in FAA regulations, there are other drone activities that may constitute criminal offenses in North Carolina—in particular, the crime of stalking. In our state, following or watching someone from a distance may be considered stalking. According to official state legislation:
“Stalking involves severe intrusions on the victim’s personal privacy and autonomy. It is a crime that causes a long-lasting impact on the victim’s quality of life and creates risks to the security and safety of the victim and others, even in the absence of express threats of physical harm… The General Assembly intends to enact a stalking statute that permits the criminal justice system to hold stalkers accountable for a wide range of acts, communications, and conduct. The General Assembly recognizes that stalking includes, but is not limited to, a pattern of following, observing, or monitoring the victim, or committing violent or intimidating acts against the victim, regardless of the means.”
That means if you use a drone to surveil or record a person, you could potentially be found guilty of a stalking offense, a class 1A misdemeanor in our state. If it is your second offense, or if you engage in stalking after a court order telling you to stop is put in place, the charge becomes a felony.
Since North Carolina legislation surrounding drone operation is still undeveloped and murky, it’s essential to get in touch with an attorney who can examine your case and determine your options if you are charged with a crime involving drone operation. With guidance from a legal professional, you may be able to avoid the serious legal consequences that come with a stalking conviction.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.