I get a lot of questions about drones, from lawyers, readers, and my kids. Most people want to know where they can buy one. But a lot of questions relate to drones and the law. As a practical futurist, I typically ignore theoretical questions, such as Federal Aviation Administration regulation of drones or drone immigration policy. But here are answers to some of the more common practical questions I’m receiving.
Q What happens if a drone slips and falls on my property? Could I be liable?
Well, yes and no. First, you should know that most drones fly, though in the near future “drone” will come to mean any robotic unmanned semi-intelligent chunk of metal and plastic, including your alarm clock. Hell, remote controlled helicopters from Toys “R” Us are drones, at least for now. But I digress. As an aerial vehicle, the likelihood of a drone slipping and falling on your property is fairly small. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful about what you have lying about your curtilage. Shovels sticking up, trip wire, sharpened sticks, trap guns, that kind of thing. Be careful what you install as protection against drone deliveries or incursions. You may end up buying yourself a personal injury lawsuit or, worse, on the short end of the stick of a drone’s programmed anger.
Q If my dog attacks a drone while making a delivery or conducting its business, what are the legal issues I should worry about?
You should worry about your dog. As you are probably aware, all commercial drones come with a weaponized payload courtesy of the second amendment. If a drone detects a “hostile” it deals with it quickly, sometimes through chemical agents like ricin or, if local law allows, semi-automatic firepower. So, to be honest, your dog will be worse for the wear. That said, if your dog happened to be successful in attacking a drone, you may be liable for the damage. Check your homeowner’s policy for “damage to drone” coverage. If it’s not there, consider adding it to the policy through riders available from State Farm and American Family Insurance. Also, review your local “dangerous dog” ordinance to see if an attack on a drone would categorize your dog as “dangerous.” Most drones, when attacked, are programmed to report animal-related incidents directly to authorities, including zoos, local animal control agencies, and other drones. You don’t want to be blacklisted from the coming drone benefits because of an allegedly dangerous dog.
Q How do I keep drones off of my property? Will a “no drone” or “no solicitation” sign work?
It depends, but probably not. While technically this is a state by state question, even governed by local ordinance, well-financed drone interests will likely prevail and any so-called “no drone zones” will be a quaint reaction to the inevitable singularity, sort of like building a post-apocalyptic shelter and filling it with cans of pork and beans. If you fear drones or want to shoot one down if it comes on your property, you should probably move to Texas, a rural part of Colorado or Wyoming, or to Greenland. Even that, however, may not work. Just saying.
Q If a drone operates a driverless Google car, is it driverless?
Wow. That’s pretty deep. I’m going to pass on this purely philosophical question for now and wait until a drone carjacks a driverless Google car. That will put the issue into a more focused and practical perspective.
Q Will I be able to operate a drone while I’m drunk?
If you mean physically, yes. Drunks can drive or “operate” drones. In case you hadn’t already realized it, you can pretty much do anything drunk. Or at least try. But is it legal? It all depends on your jurisdiction. Currently, though, most drones are not considered motor vehicles and therefore are not regulated by various state motor vehicle laws. I think the FAA, however, may be involved. In any event, consult a DUI attorney for more guidance. They will be happy to oblige.
Q I keep seeing the phrase “unmanned drones.” Does that mean there are manned drones?
Great question, though I guess it’s not technically a legal question. Yes, there are “manned” drones, just not the type that you would expect. Scientists at the University of California in Santa Clara have successfully bred a “genius” group of mice to operate drones for limited periods of time, up to twenty or thirty minutes. Unfortunately, the mice became so adept at flying the drones that they liberated other mice and are thought to have since formed hundreds of secretive “mouse cells” across the Southwest United States, with the sole purpose of liberating lab mice from research institutions. It’s too early to tell if it will be successful, though I imagine with drones at their disposal, it will be a difficult next few years, if not decades.