Unmanned Aircraft System Legislative Trends in the United States at the State Level, 2013–2016: A Comprehensive Review

Living reference work entry


The United States (US) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandated the “safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS) into the national airspace system (NAS) by the end of 2015. However, the FAA did not release its final rule until 2016. Even during the pendency of the rule, it was clear that the FAA intended to regulate safety, not privacy. In the absence of federal guidance, state legislatures began to introduce, and in some cases pass, laws to regulate UAS use within their jurisdictional limits. In fact, between 2013 and 2016, the overwhelming majority of states attempted to address the UAS issue through legislative proposals addressing privacy, using an approach borrowed from constitutional concepts. Specifically, legislators appeared to use the principles embodied in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, as applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, as a model for their action. As such, the proposals generally prohibited governmental actors from collecting information with a UAS, absent a judicial warrant or another enumerated exception. However, the approaches taken were often more restrictive than otherwise permissible under long-standing judicial precedent. Additionally, once the threshold issue of proper approval was addressed, many proposals also contained other significant limitations on UAS use including procedural hurdles, operational constraints, detailed reporting and oversight regimes, and significant ramifications for violations that are not required for other technologies or modes of information gathering. Over time, state legislation evolved as UAS use increased, the FAA rule was finalized, and national interests changed. In more recent years, legislators have taken a more expansive yet nuanced approach by regulating the conduct of private actors more frequently, targeting specific conduct as permissible or out of bounds, and attempting to promote local economies through UAS innovation. The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of current US state UAS legislation, illustrating trends and areas of divergence, to provide insight into this one critical aspect of UAS governance, easily overlooked and often misunderstood, yet critical to operating UAS within the United States.


Unmanned aircraft system Legislation Applicability Law enforcement Warrant Exceptions Operational constraint Procedural requirement Violation ramifications 

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USAFBexar CountyUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Dawn Zoldi
    • 1
  1. 1.ColoradoUSA

Personalised recommendations