This week marked a win for fans of unmanned aerial vehicles: California governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 142, which would have outlawed drone flights below 350 feet over private property.
The bill, proposed by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, was introduced back in January. Its goal? To make drone flight above private places (like backyards) illegal, just like trespassing is. It did not seek to limit drone use in public areas, or in airspace 400 feet above ground, which are spaces that fall under federal regulation.
But on Wednesday, in a letter addressed to the California State Senate, Governor Brown stated he would not sign the bill into law. He wrote: "This bill... while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and FAA-approved commercial user to burdensome litigation."
While we can't know exactly which scenarios Brown was thinking to avoid, it's not hard to come up with examples. Imagine if someone hauled you into court because — they claim — a gust of wind momentarily blew your drone directly above their property.
Drone regulation has been a never-ending saga with no real signs of reaching far-reaching resolution, and has been filled with lots of mixed messages. For example, if you found a drone buzzing outside your bedroom window, you're not within your rights to attack it, since the FAA considers UAVs aircraft. (That doesn't mean you couldn't call the cops, though.) Meanwhile, amateur drone pilots have been crashing UAVs in a spread of public places and landmarks, from the US Open to the White House.
The nixing of SB142 could reassure companies building drones, though. Commercial drone saw a recent victory, by the way: Last week, the FAA granted permission to a DC-based startup to fly its fleet of 300 drones for agricultural and research purposes.