Flyers Beware: One State Makes it Legal to Shoot a Drone

shoot a drone

Photo credit: Famartin, license by CC

Drone operators flying in the state of Utah will need to be especially careful not to fly in restricted areas: Utah has just become the only state to make it legal to shoot a drone.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill this week which would allow officials to “neutralize” any drone flying in the restricted area around wildfires.

The move comes after firefighters working on the Saddle Fire in southwestern Utah complained that rogue drones in the area had prevented air tankers from flying, forcing some to dump their retardant away from the fires.

The bill increases penalties for flying drones near wildfires, and allows “neutralizing” them — by whatever means officials deem expedient, including shooting them or jamming their frequency — and allows officials to make drone operators pay for fire damages or any other costs that they deem was caused by interference of a rogue drone.

“Public safety has always been my top priority and this new law will allow us to more effectively fight wildfires,” Gov. Herbert said in a statement. “We are not going to tolerate reckless drone interference during wildfire season.”

The law apparently does not take into consideration existing Federal regulations that prohibit disabling or shooting a drone or any other aircraft.  According to the bill:

(b) “Neutralize” means to terminate the operation of an unmanned aircraft by:
(i) disabling or damaging the unmanned aircraft;
(ii) interfering with any portion of the unmanned aircraft system associated with the unmanned aircraft; or
(iii) otherwise taking control of the unmanned aircraft or the unmanned aircraft system associated with the unmanned aircraft.

Federal law, however, states that it is a criminal offense to damage, disable or destroy any civil aircraft.

While drones not participating in firefighting activity should stay away from wildfires, it remains to be seen if the Utah bill will actually hold up when the first drone is disabled.

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