Washington Drone Laws (2017)

NOTICE: This article is for information purposes only!  This article is ONLY for state laws that are DRONE specific. Local laws and “aircraft” related laws could potentially apply and were outside of the focus of this article. It might NOT be up to date. You should seek out a competent attorney licensed in the state you are interested in before operating.

Researching? I created a page on Drone Laws(federal, state, & international) and another on only US drone laws by state.

 Current as of February 21, 2017


Fortunately, at the time of the writing of this article, there are no state level drone laws in the state of Washington. Keep in mind the focus of this article is only at the state lever. Local drone laws could be in effect.

This might change as Seattle has become tired of drones. Recently a man was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a judge for flying his drone in a careless and reckless manner which resulted in a woman being injured. Around the same time, a man crashed his drone into a Ferris wheel and another man crashed his drone into the Space Needle.

At least 7 bills have been proposed with two failing to gain traction.

Privacy Guidelines

The Chief Privacy Officer of the Washington Office of Privacy and Data Protection issued some guidelines for unmanned aircraft systems for policy makers and stakeholders as they develop policy proposals.

Here are the guidelines.

1. Definition of “Drones”—should apply to unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by a remote operator. Sample definition: “An unmanned aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.”
2. Law Enforcement and Respect for Civil Rights.

A. Fourth Amendment requirements must apply to the use of evidence derived from drone surveillance. This is grounded on probable cause and the need to obtain a warrant in advance of use for law enforcement purposes, if such evidence is to be introduced in a court of law.
B. Drones should not be used to monitor activities protected by the First Amendment or lawful exercise of other Constitutional rights.
C. Law enforcement personnel should balance use of drones against other means of gathering information in a particular investigative need, assessing whether such alternative means are less intrusive than the deployment of drones.

3. Purpose of Use—the purpose of use of a particular flight should be recorded and maintained by the applicable agency.

A. Drones should only be used in connection with properly authorized investigations and activities, unless they are authorized for on-going use by documented Agency policy.
B. Exceptions to stating a purpose of use in advance of actual use can be made for emergencies such as natural disasters, terrorism and “hot pursuit” of crimes.
C. Data collected by drones must be subject to existing state and federal laws and regulations regarding the privacy of personal information.

4. Data Minimization—the video images and other data derived from surveillance applications should be minimized in terms of review and retention, consistent with state records retention requirements. Only data pertaining to the original purpose of the drone flight should be retained. Agencies should set retention schedules consistent with the fulfillment of the original purpose of the drone flight.

5. Federal Law

A. FAA regulations regarding registration of drones, safety and no-drone zones must be followed.
B. The state acknowledges existing “open view” doctrines, as set forth by the Supreme Court and other legal authorities.

6. Policy Management

A. Drone guidelines and agency implementation should be reviewed annually to keep up with technology and respond to citizen concerns. Such review should take place within any agency that operates drones.
B. Drone guidelines should be published in print and online by each agency. OCIO will retain the guidelines in a central location.
C. The state should conduct public education and outreach regarding drone policies and operations by state agencies.
D. The state should not share drone data with the federal agencies without judicial authorization or review.
E. The state should not share drone data with local governments or between state agencies, unless such sharing is specified within the original purpose of the deployment

Washington Department of Transportation

Washington DOT uses unmanned aircraft they even published a large paper on their use.

Washington State Department of Commerce Office of Aerospace

The Office of Aerospace led the first ever Unmanned Systems Industry Council with multiple drone companies on it. AUVSI’s Cascade Chapter worked with the Office to advocate for the use of commercial drones.

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Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.