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New York City Wants to Ban Drones That 'Endanger the Lives' of Its Citizens

The bill would give the NYPD power to arrest people flying outside of very strict regulations.

Screengrab: Team Blacksheep

A New York City Council member has had enough of drones in his city—he's pledging to write a bill that would heavily restrict their use in NYC airspace.

Council member Paul Vallone said Friday that he's writing a bill that would ground drones in certain parts of the city and would put altitude limits on their flight city wide. It's not an outright ban on all drones, just the "dangerous" ones. The distinction between a "safe" and a "dangerous" drone would be made by the New York Police Department, who would get regulatory power if the bill is enacted.

“It is scary to think that anybody can simply go buy a drone and fly it with wanton disregard for the safety of those around them. We need to address this issue now, rather than wait for a tragedy to put the wheels in motion. More importantly this is not the city where we need any additional security issues, period,” Vallone said in an emailed press release. “As technology rapidly advances making drones widely available and affordable to obtain, we need to ensure that the NYPD has the ability to regulate and punish those who violate FAA regulations and endanger the lives of New Yorkers.”

It's been a really bad week for drone hobbyists in the city—on Monday, two pilots were arrested for "reckless endangerment" after a police helicopter came close to their drones. Earlier this week, Mayor Bill DeBlasio and the New York Police Department suggested that something would need to be done about irresponsible drone pilots, and suggested that drones could be used by terrorists. All this comes just a year after a person flying a gas-powered unmanned helicopter partially decapitated himself and died in a Brooklyn park.

The text of Vallone's bill still isn't ready, but his press release says that it would "mirror FAA regulations such as height flying restrictions, prohibit [drones in certain] locations, and allow the NYPD to enforce and regulate unmanned drones in New York City."

By the sounds of that, it's likely that NYC would codify the voluntary guidelines that the FAA has on the books for hobbyists, at the very least. That would make it illegal to fly a drone above 400 feet, beyond line-of-sight, and near an airport. The bit about handing over regulatory power to the NYPD would allow them to restrict the hobby even further, and I wouldn't expect the department to be lenient. The police already arrested several hobbyists in the last few months, even without laws on the books. 

Of course, the bill will need to be considered by the full council. New York isn't the first place to consider a bill restricting drone use—earlier this year, Washington State also considered one. It overwhelmingly passed the House there, but wasn't voted on by the Senate.