DRUNK DRIVING HAS been a social taboo for decades, but New Jersey in the US has now added drunk droning to the statute books: outlawing the flying of unmanned aircraft after one too many drinks.
The law makes it an offense to operate a drone under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more.
This got me thinking: could someone be prosecuted for droning while drunk in Alabama? I mean in Alabama, you certainly can be charged with DUI in a car or boat. You can even be charged for DUI while riding a horse. And I have actually defended someone charged with driving a lawn mower under the influence of alcohol.
And I have been at parties or at the lake where a certain amount of imbibing was occurring and then someone broke out their new toy drone. (Dilly-dilly!)
First, there is no special droning-under-the-influence statute in Alabama as there is in New Jersey.
Second, droning is not covered by the standard DUI statute (32-5A-191).
A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle while (1) There is 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in his or her blood; (2) Under the influence of alcohol; (3) Under the influence of a controlled substance to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving; (4) Under the combined influence of alcohol and a controlled substance to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving; or (5) Under the influence of any substance which impairs the mental or physical faculties of such person to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving.
Because a drone is not a “vehicle” under Alabama’s DUI statute:
Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks or electric personal assistive mobility devices; provided, that for the purposes of this title, a bicycle or a ridden animal shall be deemed a vehicle, except those provisions of this title, which by their very nature can have no application.
However, I could see a prosecution in the right set of circumstances for reckless endangerment in Alabama (§ 13A-6-24):
A person commits the crime of reckless endangerment if he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.
Most critically though, operating a drone while under the influence is, however, a federal offense. A person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft (“weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff) must comply with certain federal regulations. 14 CFR 107.27 On of those regulations prohibits operating the small unmanned aircraft (1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage; (2) While under the influence of alcohol; (3) While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety; or (4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.
Additionally, the FAA regulations separately define a “model aircraft” as “an unmanned aircraft” that is: (i) Capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (ii) Flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (iii) Flown for hobby or recreational purposes. Because it defines a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft, I think the regulations would apply. Even if not, the model aircraft rules also separately indirectly prescribe operating a model unmanned aircraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
All this being said: I do believe that you can be charged, by federal offense and possibly by Alabama state law, for droning while under the influence of of drugs or alcohol. (And note: DUI under the federal regs is .04 BAC vs. .08 BAC for driving a car.)
There are other ways to commit crimes with a drone. For instance, its against the law to interfere with airliners. Was A Frontier Airlines Jet Almost Hit By A Drone Over Las Vegas?
It is also against the law with use of a drone though. “A person may not hunt, pursue, harass, wound, kill, or otherwise harm any wild waterfowl or other birds or animals by any means whatever during the time the person is on any kind of aircraft.” Code of Ala. § 23-1-387