BISMARCK — The North Dakota Highway Patrol is launching drone technology with the help of legislative funding and federal permission to fly unmanned aircraft systems over people.

The patrol on Tuesday, Aug. 13, officially announced its four‐year authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drones over populated areas. A list that the FAA provided Monday when the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department announced its four-year approval showed that the patrol also had been granted the authority.

The North Dakota patrol is the first state highway patrol agency in the country to receive the permission. The Burleigh County Sheriff's Department is only the second county law enforcement agency in the nation to obtain it.

“This waiver will allow North Dakota Highway Patrol troopers the option to safely photograph, measure and document complicated crash scenes,” Col. Brandon Solberg, the patrol superintendent, said in a statement. “Traditional methods of working on crash scenes and gathering evidence require troopers to block off roadways and stand in lanes of travel, which can cause delays for motorists and unnecessary risk to emergency personnel.”

The ability to fly drones over people also will help the patrol find missing people or fleeing suspects, the agency said.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

The patrol does not have any drones, but it has purchased a parachute recovery system that's necessary to receive permission to fly over populated areas. The system designed by Israel-based ParaZero SafeAir shuts down the rotors if a drone fails, deploys a parachute and emits a buzzer to warn bystanders below.