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Can You Fly a Drone in Town?

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You love the town you live in, as it’s a picturesque, serene place. Lately, you’ve thought about how fun it would be to take your new hobby of drone piloting out around town.

Can you fly your drone in your town?

Flying a drone in your town is usually not prohibited. However, many cities and towns across the United States and beyond have ordinances limiting drone activity. If you are allowed to use your drone, do not fly over people’s heads or over moving vehicles.

Ahead, we’ll talk further about flying your drone in town, including when you can do it, when you can’t, and how to fly so you don’t annoy others or break any laws.

Let’s get started!

Can you fly a drone in town? #

When most people talk about being “in town,” they’re referring to their neighborhood.

As we discussed in this post on the blog, you’re allowed to fly your drone in town if you mean your own neighborhood.

» MORE: Can I Fly a Drone in My Neighborhood?

That goes for using your drone around your own property, in your own backyard, and even in your home if you wanted to (we don’t recommend it though!).

More so, you can fly over other homes in town and on the streets that make up your neighborhood if those streets don’t contain any moving vehicles.

It’s all pretty much allowed when it comes to using a drone in town!

Now, if you’re asking about a specific city or town, then it’s time to check the ordinances.

We highly recommend you read our series of blog posts on drone laws in the United States, as we painstakingly went through every law, rule, and ordinance on a local level so you don’t have to.

If you see your city or town has an ordinance, then learn the ordinance and respect it.

Failing to do so could lead to a misdemeanor charge that’s potentially punishable by time behind bars. At the very least, you could have to shell out a few hundred dollars for a fine.

Your state could have local drone ordinances, but if none apply to where you live, then that generally means drones are allowed to fly in your town.

Even still, you’re always required to follow the FAA’s federal guidelines.

General drone laws to know when flying a drone in town #

The FAA, as a federal agency, has blanket rules that apply no matter which town or neighborhood throughout the US we’re talking about.

Here’s an overview of those rules.

Have your license handy #

Do you just fly your drone for fun? Even still, you need a license.

For recreational pilots, it’s the TRUST certificate, which is an official FAA drone license.

Why is it called the TRUST certificate, you ask? It’s short for The Recreational UAS Safety Test, which is the name of the test you’ll have to take before you can begin flying your drone for personal enjoyment.

The TRUST test is the FAA’s way of ensuring you know the basics about drones and the FAA guidelines. It’s not a very long test, as it’s under 50 questions, and all the questions are multiple-choice.

You don’t have to pay a cent to take the TRUST test, and it’s all done online, so you can choose a comfy environment and take it.

If you answer any questions incorrectly, which happens, you’ll see the wrong answer as you’re still taking the test. You can go back and correct your response if you want.

After you complete the TRUST test, the FAA will mail out your license.

Keep it somewhere handy. The TRUST certificate never expires, but if you lose it, you have to take the exam again!

Make sure your drone is registered if it’s heavier #

If you’re just practicing around town with a toy drone, then you can skip the FAA registration provided your drone weighs less than 0.55 pounds.

What if your drone is heavier than that? Then you need to register it.

It only costs $5 to register your drone, and then you’re covered for the next three years. If you’re still using the same drone three years from now, you’ll have to pay again to register it at that time.

Do not fly over people’s heads #

The FAA has an Operations Over People [1] law that went into effect in early 2021.

According to that law, if your drone is a Category 1 drone that’s 0.55 pounds or less (so, toy drones), you can fly over people provided that your drone’s rotating parts won’t cause lacerations.

Category 2 and Category 3 drones that are over 0.55 pounds can’t fly over people during open-air assemblies.

Even if you can technically fly over other people’s heads with a toy drone, maybe you want to rethink that. After all, these aren’t just any people but your neighbors. You don’t want to disrupt their day-to-day lives with your drone.

Don’t fly over moving vehicles #

Operation Over Moving Vehicles is another FAA law that you should be abreast of as you begin flying your drone around town.

If a vehicle is moving, it doesn’t matter its speed. You still cannot fly over it.

However, in a restricted-access or closed site, if the people in the vehicle know you’re using your drone and grant you their permission, you can fly over those vehicles without consequences.

Don’t use your drone to stalk or harass people #

Many states have laws forbidding pilots from using their UAVs in any kind of harassing fashion, such as looking into someone’s windows, following someone, or acting as a peeping tom.

If you’re caught violating these laws, you typically have to pay a hefty fine, and you could even face imprisonment.

Even if you’re not legally punished for your behavior, you can still become the pariah of the neighborhood fast, and that’s no good!

Don’t violate a person’s privacy by taking photos or videos #

Today, even the cheapest drones come equipped with cameras. That camera might not be very good, but it’s better than nothing.

How you use a drone camera is just as pertinent as how you operate the drone.

You should not use the camera to try and photograph into someone’s windows, steal proprietary information, catch someone in a state of undress, or do anything else inappropriate.

Fly your drone lower than 400 feet #

The FAA restricts drone pilots from ascending higher than 400 feet.

You can fly over your town’s chimneys and utility poles while still being well under 400 feet, so make sure you don’t violate this drone rule.

Keep your drone within your visual line of sight #

Last but certainly not least is the requirement to keep your drone within your visual line of sight.

Your visual line of sight refers to how far you can naturally see, and it does include how far you can see with a pair of glasses or contacts.

However, you can’t use a tool like binoculars to enhance your visual line of sight.

What do I do if my neighbor doesn’t like me flying my drone around town? #

You’ve begun flying your drone around town, and so far, you’re having oodles of fun. However, one of your neighbors is none too fond of what you’re doing.

They don’t like your drone because they think it’s noisy, disruptive, and invading their privacy.

You’re flying in areas where you’re legally allowed to, and you even have the appropriate license, but that hasn’t made a lick of difference to your neighbor. They want to ground your drone.

Now what?

Even if you’re within your right to fly the drone, keeping the peace is sometimes more important. Besides, the average person doesn’t know about FAA guidelines, TRUST certificates, and all that. It doesn’t matter to them.

You can explain that you’re not trying to cause any harm or disruption with your drone, but your neighbor might not buy that. The very presence of your UAV is enough of a disruption to some.

If your neighbor is being especially unyielding, then we recommend compromising.

Perhaps you only fly your drone during certain hours when they’re at work or you don’t fly near their house. Your town is a big enough place that you can find another cool spot for drone practice.

Hopefully, you can diffuse tensions before the neighbor feels the need to get the police involved.

Conclusion #

Flying a drone in your town is legal, but you should always follow FAA guidelines.

Stay within 400 feet, don’t fly over moving vehicles, and avoid flying over people’s heads unless you have their permission (and even then, be careful!). Have fun out there!

References:1. Operations Over People (link)


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