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Can You Fly a Drone Over a Highway?

5 mins
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As a commercial drone pilot, you may sometimes find yourself in the difficult situation of being assigned a job flying around highways. Part 107 rules can feel very restrictive in these situations, even though they are essential for airspace safety.

Can you fly a drone over a highway?

In most cases, you will be restricted from flying over a highway when there are moving vehicles. That goes for recreational and commercial pilots alike.

This article will focus on one drone flight restriction: flying over moving vehicles on a highway. Does it matter if you’re a Part 107 pilot? What if you’re just flying recreationally? And why is it so dangerous?

We’ll answer all these questions and more, so don’t miss it!

The FAA’s take on flying a drone over highways #

Although it may not be well-known, there are two provisions in Part 107 that relate to drone flight over moving cars.

Section 107.39, also known as Operations Over People, is one provision.

This section essentially says that no person can operate a small unmanned aircraft above a human being unless that human being is located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that provides reasonable protection from the drone crashing.

This section also says that a drone can only be flown over an individual who is not a participant if it is protected by a covered structure or stationary vehicle.

In other words, yes, you can fly over people if they are in a building or a stationary car. However, on a highway, the cars (covered structures) are not stationary.

Section 107.19 is the second relevant provision and doesn’t specifically mention “moving vehicles,” but vehicles in general whether stationary or moving. It’s safer to avoid flying over vehicles, stationary or moving. 

Why are vehicles so important? They provide adequate protection for those inside.

The FAA is not opposed to drone flights over stationary vehicles but moving vehicles are an entirely different matter.

Further, the FAA defines a moving car as one that is in an “operating state.” Even if they’re not running, this includes motors that are still in use.

This restriction is designed to protect against two types of dangers:

  1. Drone crashes causing vehicular accidents
  2. Operators of moving vehicles being disengaged

This first point is fairly obvious. A drone crash is, for the most part, a self-contained incident. It causes damage to the drone and any property that it hits. 

A drone hitting a vehicle driving on the highway is a different story. A drone that crashes near or above a moving vehicle could cause it to lose control and result in more property damage or injury.

The danger increases with more vehicles on the road and the speed at which they travel. Usually, on the highway, vehicles are moving anywhere from 60 to 90 miles per hour.

The FAA also considers the risk of a collision between a drone or a vehicle near-fatal.

This is reasonable as the potential injury and damage that could result from a vehicular collision are much more severe than a standard drone crash, which if a person was to get hit already causes a large amount of damage.

The FAA wants to prevent drones from flying over moving vehicles, which could also cause driver distraction.

Drones are novel and unexplored to most people, which makes them more fascinating than commercial or helicopter aircraft. Even though this might not be true for all drivers, it is enough to cause the FAA restriction.

How to get around these restrictions and fly over highways #

Section 107.39 may technically be waived by the FAA upon request. However, most waivers granted under this provision are for flights over people.

The FAA rarely grants waivers for flying over moving vehicles due to the high risk involved.

What other options do drone pilots have, given the low chances of getting a waiver? 

Just like flying over people outside of a structure, you must be flying directly over them in order to be considered flying over moving vehicles. This means that the placement of the drone and the capability of the drone to zoom are important. 

If there is an area near the highway that is close to cars but not directly over them, you can place your drone in that position, then zoom in so it appears you are above them.

Sometimes there are large medians between highway roads, and if there is a long break in traffic flow, you’ll be able to fly across the highway legally.

This brings us to the next way to get around these restrictions.

Technically, If there are no vehicles on the highway, and you are in class E airspace, you’ll be good to fly back and forth over the highway.

However, as we all know, highways are rarely not busy other than late at night. To perform a night flight, you’ll need a special waiver from the FAA.

The exception to the rule of no flights over moving vehicles #

Only one exception to the FAA’s rule about flying a drone over a highway is when the vehicle is directly participating in the operation.

For example, if you’re shooting aerial footage of a vehicle rolling along a highway, this is an exception. You can fly over other vehicles that are part of your flight crew if they are aware of the drone’s location and presence.

Final thoughts #

The FAA has a very strict ban on drone flights over moving vehicles. They rarely lift it and have good reasons for not doing so.

This is especially true when a drone is flying over busy roads such as highways. The FAA is unlikely to grant permission for a drone or drone pilot that would cause a major vehicular accident.

This means a hobbyist may find it hard to get a waiver when compared to a Part 107 commercial drone pilot.

We recommend that you find creative ways to operate your drone while not violating the flight restriction rules. As we discussed previously, it’s best to just fly adjacent to the highway and zoom in for the illusion of flying over the highway. Good luck!


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