Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, have a host of applications including law enforcement, land surveillance, wildlife tracking, search and rescue operations, disaster response, border patrol and photography. State legislatures across the country are debating if and how UAS technology should be regulated, taking into account the benefits of their use, privacy concerns and their potential economic impact. So far, 16 states have enacted 20 laws addressing UAS use. Common issues addressed in the legislation include defining what a UAS, UAV or drone is, how they can be used by law enforcement or other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, regulations for their use in hunting game and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAS test sites.
States with UAS Laws
Since the beginning of 2013 legislative sessions, state lawmakers have considered many pieces of legislation addressing UAS. To learn more about state UAS laws, bills and resolutions, please follow a link covering measures from a specific session below.
Federal UAS Regulation
The 2012 Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act requires the FAA to integrate UAS into civilian airspace by 2015. To complete this task, the law also charges the FAA with establishing six test sites where operating standards for UAS can be researched and developed. On Dec. 30, 2013 the FAA announced their selected test sites, which will begin operating in the summer of 2013 and continue through February 2017.
On Nov. 7, 2013 the FAA released its first annual roadmap for the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the nation’s airspace. In addition to the roadmap, the FAA also released Final Privacy Requirements for the UAS Test Site Program and a UAS Comprehensive Plan. More information about the FAA's work with UAS can be found here.
2013 Legislative Summit Resources
2013 NCSL Fall Forum Resources
- Presentation - Katherine E. Stern, senior counsel, The Constitution Project, PDF
- Presentation - Mario Mairena, government relations manager, AUVSI, PDF
- Presentation - Richard Williams, policy specialist, NCSL, PDF
- 2013 NCSL Fall Forum UAV Handout, PDF
- Alaska: Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Interim Report to the Legislature, January 15, 2014.
- Connecticut: Office of Legislative Research, Drone Laws in Other States, October 22, 2013.
- North Carolina: State Chief Information Officer, Unmanned Aircraft Use in North Carolina, March 2014.
- Oklahoma: Report of the Governor’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Council, A Strategic Plan for the Development of an Unmanned Aerial Systems Enterprise, Spring 2012.
- Virginia: Department of Criminal Justice Services, Protocols for the Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems by Law-Enforcement Agencies, November 1, 2013.
- Congressional Research Service Report | "Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses," PDF
- Airline Safety Forum, video, July 2013 | James H. Williams, manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, Aviation Safety Organization, Federal Aviation Administration
- United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations, March 20, 2013, PDF