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Can You Fly a Drone Over a Highway?

While flying drones is fun, one thing you quickly realize once you pick this up as a hobby or a career is the regulations.

One situation that I have found myself in, and I know you will if you haven’t already, is having to fly a drone close to or over a highway. But can you fly a drone over a highway?

Most civil aviation regulations restrict drone use over highways because they pose a risk to highway users. If you lose control of the drone and it falls on a busy highway, unsuspecting drivers could panic, lose control of their vehicles, and cause accidents.

As a seasoned drone expert, I’ll help you to understand the laws and regulations governing the use of drones over highways.

Keep reading.

Can You Fly a Drone Over a Highway?

In the United States, the FAA regulates the airspace, and according to their stipulations, flying a drone over a highway is against the law and could warrant an arrest.

Can You Fly a Drone Over a Highway?

Also, the law restricts me from flying drones below 50 meters along public roads. Sometimes, the authorities allow the flying of drones over a highway, but you have to get a waiver.

For example, when shooting videos of highway construction or managing construction assets.

What Are the Rules Governing the Use of a Drone Over a Highway?

According to Section 1.7.25 of the FAA law,

  • You should never operate a drone if you’re in a moving aircraft.
  • You can only fly the drone from a moving land or water-borne car over a less populated area.

    However, you shouldn’t be doing so if you will be compensated or have been hired to transport somebody else’s property.

    If you want to learn more about how to carry things with drones and do it legally then make sure to read our full guide here.

According to Section 107.19 of the FAA, if your drone loses control, it should never endanger the lives of anyone using the highway, their property, or aircraft.

Further, Section 107.39 of the FAA says that you can operate a drone over a stationary car only if, in case the drone crashes, the car will offer absolute protection to the person onboard.

According to Section 107.145 of the FAA, you can fly your drone over a highway as long as you:

  • Strictly fly it over a highway with restricted access (no moving cars).
  • Don’t keep the drone constantly flying over the moving cars.
  • Alert everyone inside a moving vehicle within the closed highway that a drone might fly over them.
  • Possess an airworthiness certificate.
  • Strictly follow the operating restrictions listed in the approved drone’s Flight Manual or as the Administrator says.  
  • Aren’t prohibited to use drones over people inside moving cars.

Can you fly a Drone over a Motorway in the UK?

The UK’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) has slightly different rules regarding flying drones over highways or motorways.

While they don’t explicitly prohibit flying over a motorway, they do say that you should avoid flying over crowded or congested areas, including roads, and stay at least 50 meters from vehicles that aren’t aware of a drone flying.

If the motorway is not congested, you can fly over it but maintain at least 100 meters above ground.

Your drone’s weight also affects where you can fly it. The heavier it is, the more restricted it is.

Drones weighing less than 500 grams (C0 and C1 categories) can be flown over motorways, but you must get approval.

Drones weighing 1 to 4 kg are generally prohibited from flying over a motorway, but you could get a waiver.

Drones weighing more than 4 kg are also not allowed or recommended, but you could apply for special exemptions.

Tips for Safely Flying Your Drone Over a Highway

Tips for Safely Flying Your Drone Over a Highway

If you want to fly your drone over a highway, here are a few tips to strictly follow:

  1. Register your drone with the relevant regulatory agency. You could be sued for operating a drone without registering it.

    If you want to learn the step by step guide on how to register your drone then make sure to read our full guide here.
  2. Unique laws govern each state. So, before flying the drone over a highway, check with the authorities to know the possible restrictions.
  3. Avoid flying the drone near airports and any other areas with drone use restrictions.
  4. Only fly over less populated highways, and don’t fly over people or moving cars.
  5. Check the weather before flying the drone. If, for example, it’s windy, your drone could fly to the unintended areas and cause accidents.
  6. Insure your drone. Look for the best companies that cover flights and drone pilots.
  7. Inform the drivers beforehand that there will be a drone flying over the highway so that they can be alert.
  8. Never fly drones over highways at night; seeing or controlling them is challenging due to poor lighting.
  9. Observe the structures close to where you are flying and set the default RTH height higher than these structures.
  10. Make sure your drone is insured. Sometimes accidents happen, and you wouldn’t want to pay out of pocket for the damage caused.

    In that case, get a minimum of third-party insurance that at least covers the damage caused by the drone.

Cases Where You May Be Allowed to Fly a Drone Over a Highway

Certain cases may allow you to fly a drone over a highway. Such may include:

Supervising Construction

If you’re supervising construction on or near a highway or want to conduct progress videos or images of a project, get the necessary licenses before the construction begins.

With the license, you can shoot videos or take photos, which you might want to share with the stakeholders to assess the work in progress.

Even then, ensure that you strictly follow the various regulations and ensure safe drone usage.

Mapping

You can use your drone for mapping purposes over a highway, but you must have the necessary licenses.

The FAA or CAA exempts you from certain restrictions based on the mapping requirements.

So, analyze the nature of your project and apply for exemptions based on your mapping task.

Even so, only drones used for mapping may be used in this manner as they fly at a high altitude.

3 Dangers of Flying Over a Highway

There are several risks associated with flying drones over highways. For example, increased chances of accidents and drone collisions with birds, among others. Below, I’ll cover these and more risks.

Increased Rate of Accidents

There are many activities taking place on highways. Consequently, the driver must be highly attentive while flying around these zones.

For instance, noise from a busy highway may prevent you from hearing notifications from your drone.

If your take off point is too close to the highway you have to be cautious of the cars and passersby who are attracted by the drone.

Losing your focus even for a second could cause a lot of havoc, and you could lose control of the drone and it crashes onto a moving car, bird, or any other structure.

Also, birds love flying near highways as sometimes there is more provision of food in those areas.

As such, a bird could likely collide with your drone. Hence, your attention should never be divided while flying the drone over highways.

Infrastructure

There is more infrastructure around highways, for example, powerline cables, buildings, and towers, which could heighten the chances of a collision.

On the other hand, this infrastructure also increases electromagnetic noise, so communication between the drone controller and the drone could be negatively affected.

You could even lose your drone if it fails to fly back home when the connection is lost.

Drone Falls

Even after getting trained and ensuring your drone is functioning correctly, there are cases where the drone malfunctions and lands or comes crashing on the highway.

If this happens and causes a driver to panic and lose control of his car, you could pay dearly for the damage caused.

This is why, even though I could apply for a waiver, I always try to stay away from highways or only fly over them when absolutely necessary.

Verdict

While the regulatory bodies want you to enjoy every moment of flying your drone, they want to ensure that not a single life is endangered by a flying drone.

Consequently, they provide clear regulations of what to do when you have to fly over a highway.

In exceptional cases, though, for example, when overseeing construction on the highway or doing mapping jobs, you could be allowed to use your drone, but you must own the necessary licenses.

But even then, you must follow all the federal and local laws regarding drone use over highways.

Also, only fly the drone if the weather is conducive, avoid any distractions, and strictly keep your drone in line of sight.

Additionally, always fly the drone on closed highways or those with very few moving cars and ensure the drivers are informed about the presence of a flying drone.

Author
Peter Karanja

Peter is a licensed drone pilot and drone fanatic. He owns a DJI Air 2S that he uses to shoot videos for fun, enjoyment and for clients.

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