As drone technology races ahead, lawmakers are trying to keep up by passing laws regulating the drone industry. In this year’s Long Session, two bills were passed and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper related to drone use.
The first, HBill 128, sponsored by Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Randolph) is titled, “Prohibit Drone Use Over Prison/Jail.”
The bill makes it unlawful to operate a drone or unmanned aircraft within 500 horizontal feet or 250 vertical feet of a local confinement facility, or a state or federal prison facility.
Violating this law carries is a felony offense if the operator uses the drone to deliver a weapon or contraband to the facility. It is a misdemeanor to violate the law by flying within the prohibited area with no other intent.
The law states that a violator may have their drone confiscated and disposed of for the offense.
Also, the Department of Transportation is directed in the law to develop and place signage noting the boundaries around the facility.
Retired police chief, and current security professional in Charlotte, Walter Kimble said these types of laws come with the territory when technology advances. “Unfortunately, it’s necessary,” Kimble said. “We need to be proactive to try to stay ahead. It’s unfortunate that this has to happen.”
Kimble also said that this type of legislation was fueled in part by the story that an inmate broke out of prison in South Carolina, where there were allegations that a drone dropped him some tools to help him break out.
Another law dealing with drones that came out of this past session is HBill 337, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Law Revisions.” Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) sponsored the bill, which clarifies that emergency management services may use drones for all functions and activities related to emergency management. It also allows them now to use special imaging technology to assist in emergency situations.
Special imaging such as infrared or thermal technology can be used in search and rescue operations or in firefighting to help visibility in smoke.
The bill also conforms state law with federal law regarding permitting age, which is now 16 to get a commercial permit to operate a drone.
Previously a valid state-issued driver’s license was needed when applying for a commercial drone permit. Under the law now, any form of identification approved by the FAA is acceptable.
A knowledge test is still required to obtain a commercial use permit for drones.
Model airplanes are mentioned in the bill as being excluded from the permitting process.
Both laws passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, and both go into effect on December 1, 2017.