In the movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce Brosnan as James Bond gets to drive his car by remote control before demolishing it in James Bond style. The first time Bond drives his BMW he is not even inside the car. What happens if that is done in real life and James Bond would be drunk? Could the police pull him over for drunk driving? Believe it or not, this is not just an academic question. Just ask “Timmy.”
“Timmy” is the name of the client who was kind of in the same position as James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies. However, “Timmy” was not charged with drunk driving for driving his car by remote control. “Timmy” actually did James Bond one better: He was charged with drunk driving for driving his drone while intoxicated!
Upon turning 18 years old, “Timmy” got his drone. As his birthday party, Timmy and his buddies went out to a park and fly the drone around for laughs. They also brought along some beer. Lots of beer. Timmy decided it would be fun if he took pictures from his drone of people as they were walking around. He also mistakenly flew the drone over a county jail. Needles to say that behavior got the attention of law enforcement which apparently did not like James Bond or Timmy buzzing the jail with his drone. Among other things, Timmy was charged with drunk driving of his drone.
“Drones” are “powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, and can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely. A drone may be expendable or recoverable.” Wis. Stat. Sec. 941.292 (1). See also, Wis. Stat. Sec. 114.105 (1) (a) (Drone” means an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.); See also, Public Law 112-95, Section 331(8). Wis. Stat. Sec. 941.292 refers to weaponized drones. The B4UFLY app is an easy to use tool to help recreational drone flyers know where they can and cannot fly with interactive maps. The new app is now available to download for free at the App Store for iOS and Google Play store for Android. National Drone safety Week has a helpful publication here. This publication makes it clear that the FAA sees operating a drone subject to the same regulations as driving a car: “Just like cars and planes – we need to keep the roads and airways secure for everyone – commuters, hobbyists, general public.”
A drone which is not weaponized is “any contrivance invented, used, or designed for navigation of or flight in the air, but does not include spacecraft.” Wis. Stat. Sec. 114.002 (3). See also, 49 USC § 40102. To operate aircraft “means the use, navigation or piloting of aircraft in the airspace over this state or upon any airport within this state.” Wis. Stat. Sec. 114.002 (17). While aircraft would typically refer to an airplane, the phrase “contrivance invented, used, or designed for navigation of or flight in the air” could include a drone as well. Wis. Stat. Secs. 114.105 (1)(a) and 114.002(3). Regardless of aircraft type, the responsibility to fly safely applies equally to all manned and unmanned aircraft operations. A summary of FAA rules for drones can be found here.
Flying a drone around in Wisconsin “unless at such a low altitude as to intentionally interfere with the then existing use to which the land or water, or the space over the land or water, is put by the owner, or unless so conducted as to be imminently dangerous or damaging to persons or property lawfully on the land or water beneath.” Wis. Stat. Sec. 114.004. Further, it is a felony offense to put a weapon on a drone. Wis. Stat. Sec. 941.292. Further, if you fly any drone, with or without weapons, over any “correctional institution,” you can be required to forfeit not more than $5000.00. Wis. Stat. Sec. 114.045. A drone cannot be operated in a manner that interferes with, any manned aircraft. Section 336 of Public Law 112-95.
Finally Wisconsin law prohibits a person from operating an aircraft “in the air or on the ground or water while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or controlled substances or controlled substance analogs under ch. 961 or a combination thereof, under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely operating an aircraft, or under the combined influence of intoxicating liquor and any other drug to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely operating an aircraft.” Wis. Stat. Sec. 114.09. Violation of the statute carries serious jail time, anywhere from 30 days to 6 months which can be increased depending on the level of your intoxication.