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I can’t fly my drone anywhere in Texas?

Flying drones seems like a harmless hobby, but the State of Texas is concerned about the privacy of Texas citizens. Many drones enable you to attach your smartphone to the drone to take video and pictures, or have built-in cameras.

Texas drone laws are generally stricter than elsewhere in the country. While many states limit how much law enforcement can use drones to monitor the public, by contrast, the Texas statutes are written to control and limit how citizens fly drones over private property.

Generally, you must comply with FAA regulations and fly your drone no higher than 400 feet or below restricted airspace. Texas laws, specifically Texas Government Code Chapter 423; Use of Unmanned Aircraft sets forth a list of situations where it is lawful to capture images with an unmanned aircraft (drone).

The Texas Government Code lists where in our state pictures or video can be captured with a drone. These are allowable pictures:

• public real property or a person on public property;

• with the consent of the owner or legal resident of private property;

• for educational purposes;

• in FAA-designated test sites or ranges;

• by any branch of the military;

• for mapping by satellite;

• if the image is captured by or for an electric of natural gas utility for maintenance, assessment, routing, and inspections;

• with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property;

• pursuant to a valid search warrant;

• by law enforcement in immediate pursuit of someone they have reasonable suspicion to believe has committed a felony offense, or to document a felony crime scene, and a list of other instances when law enforcement might want to use aerial photography;

• at hazardous material spills;

• for fire suppression;

• to rescue an individual;

• by a real estate broker so long as no individuals are depicted;

• of real property or of a person on real property that is within 25 miles of the US border;

• at a height of no more than 8 feet off the ground in a public place if image captured without amplification;

• pipeline inspections

• port security

It is illegal in Texas to use a drone specifically for the purpose of surveillance. Texas Government Code Sec. 423.003 makes it an offense (Class C Misdemeanor) to record a person or privately-owned property with the intent to spy on someone. If you take a picture or a video and are not doing so within one of the exception as listed above, then it is illegal in Texas.

It’s currently a criminal offense to intentionally or knowingly operate a drone over critical infrastructure facilities like power plants, ports, and refineries. A new law goes into effect September 1 adding the following to the list of facilities:

• sports venues that seat more than 30,000 unless the drone operator is a part of law enforcement, a governmental body, is the owner of the venue, or has the owner’s permission

• correctional facilities

• concentrated animal feeding operations,

• cell towers

You might want to check out the FAA website before flying your drone so you don’t tangle with the FAA or the federal government. The FAA has even developed an app B4UFly for your phone that provides information about FAA requirements and restrictions and generally where it is OK to fly. Oh, and don’t forget: never to disturb cows or livestock at mealtime in Texas!

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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