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Flying a Drone in California Laws

Posted by Raoul Severo | Dec 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

While we may still not have flying cars sharing the sky with airplanes just yet, we do have drones. As California law defines, a drone is an unpiloted aircraft -- that is, it operates without having a human pilot on board. Indeed, this concept of unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs sounds very futuristic. And just like all newly-innovated technologies, drones are subject to government regulation. This is to ensure that these devices do not interfere with or disrupt public peace and harmony. 

Hence, whether you're flying a drone for personal amusement or work-related purposes, you definitely need to follow and comply with both the federal and state laws. As of this moment, the state of California has not just one, but several drone laws which each has its own function. Take a look at the comprehensive summary of all California statutes concerning drones:

  • California Civil Code 1708 - Originally, California Civil Code 1708 was meant for the protection of people's privacy and personal space. But with the recent introduction of drones, it was amended to penalize drone pilots who use such a device to violate the privacy of others.
  • California Assembly Bill 2655 - This law states that it is illegal for emergency responders to take pictures of a crime scene by the use of drones without a valid reason to do so. 
  • California Civil Code 43.101 - All first responders, who happened to damage an unmanned aerial vehicle while supporting an emergency service, shall be free from civil liability. Furthermore, anyone who interferes with an emergency service by the use of drones shall be charged with a misdemeanor offense.
  • California Government Code 853 - While California Civil Code 43.101 was focused on first responders, California Government Code 853 now gives the same immunity to a local public entity or an employee of a local public entity who damaged an unmanned aerial vehicle while providing emergency services. 
  • California Code of Regulations title. 14 § 4351 - This law makes it unlawful to fly a drone over or within a State Park wilderness location, cultural preserves, and/or nature preserves. 
  • California Penal Code PC 402 - This penal code states that unless it is part of the person's job, it is illegal to use a drone to view the activities of police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel if it impedes the performance of their duties.

Take note that the laws listed above are only state-specific statutes. There are federal laws that you need to follow on top of the state laws. Not only California is expected to follow federal laws, but the rest of the states. Here are the following:

  • Commercial drones - If you fly a drone for work or business purposes, you are mandated to take (and pass) the FAA's Aeronautical Knowledge Test, become a certified remote pilot, and fulfill other requirements as stated in FAA's Part 107 Small UAS Rule.
  • Personal use drones - If the drone is operated for leisure, you are still required to follow the FAA's recreational model aircraft rules. 
  • Government drones - If the drone is used to accomplish government-related tasks, you can choose between following the FAA's Part 107 rules or applying for a federal Certificate of Authorization.

Related Offenses

There are many related offenses that can be linked if you violate any of the state or federal drone regulations, such as:

Penalties

Other than California Penal Code PC 402, there are no California statutes that prosecute individuals who fly a drone illegally. This is because most of these drone laws are to regulate the use of drones, not necessarily decriminalizing individuals. Nevertheless, let us focus on PC 402.

As stated in the statute, anyone who violates PC 402, which is to impede an emergency response through the use of drones, is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty includes:

  • Not more than 6 months in county jail

Meanwhile, federal laws may give harsher penalties for those who violate federal regulations involving drones. This, however, highly depends on the circumstances of your case as drone laws are very vast and broad.

Need Help?

If you still need more information about drone laws in California, do not worry -- we've got your back. Our attorneys have been practicing law for decades; hence, they are more than capable to give you everything you need: answers, guidance, or even legal representation. Just give us a call and we will do our best to assist you.

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