Lawmakers in New Jersey have passed a bill, which if signed by Gov. Chris Christie, would turn drinking while flying a drone into a criminal offense that could carry up to $1,000 in fines and six months in prison.
Understandably, flying any drone even a toy while intoxicated can be hazardous and cause injury, but NJ lawmakers are now asking the governor to impose stiff penalties. According to the proposed legislation, operating a drone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 (BAC) percent or more (same as with driving a vehicle) would be considered a disorderly conduct offense under the new rules.
The bill passed with a vote of 65-0 and is expected to be signed into law. Also included in the measure are calls for even stricter penalties for those who intentionally use their drones to endanger someone's life or property, harass wildlife, or compromise the security of a correctional facility. Such infractions carry stiffer fines and sentencing, which could result in offenders facing up to $10,000 in fines and 18 months in prison.
In a country where almost 10 percent of the population is behind bars, the new drone laws may come as no surprise to critics who believe, with reason, that the number of laws in the United States helps to contribute to the incarceration problem. Not only are there too many people behind bars, there are too many behind bars for victimless crimes—such as being caught with a plant.
But is flying a drone drunk really all that dangerous? For a closer look, we found an experiment conducted by Rotor Riot to determine how alcohol affects one's ability to fly a drone. Using a lot of alcohol and a breathalyzer, seasoned drone pilots took to the skies to fly their drones completely smashed.
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While flying a designated indoor course, the pilots created a baseline of time while flying sober. Then they started taking shots until their blood alcohol content began to reflect what they were surely feeling. The experimenters timed their runs before, during and after getting drunk to see how slow their responsiveness would be flying drunk. The description of the video noted:
"DO NOT TRY THIS! This is an experiment by trained professionals to measure the effects of alcohol on people's ability to fly drones. No egos were harmed in the making of this video."
Soon after, the drones started to explode as each professional drone pilot began to crash their aircraft. When the BAC reached beyond the legally intoxicated limits, the pilots' course completion times were longer and more crashes took place.
As if the virtual reality headsets weren't nauseating enough, the alcohol eventually took over, leaving the drone pilots vomiting in the end. Surprisingly, the researchers concluded that each pilot is different. Some pilots needed a lot of alcohol to be impaired while it took very little for others. The results were also inconsistent.
Fortunately, the kind of drones which could cause more serious injuries are quite expensive and the researchers admitted they would never want to fly those expensive machines while inebriated. The real question is do we need another law on the books to prove it?