Flying close to a live motorway

I can’t find clear rules on flying proximity to an active motorway.
Part of a flight plan would see me following a canal that passes very close to the M6. If the traffic is light would the 50m rule apply as opposed to heavy traffic where I’d assume the 150m rule would apply.
If the former 50m rule could apply would I be able to be 36m out at 36m altitude (Pythagorean Theorem so I’m 50m+ away from the carriageway) or to avoid distraction To drivers, would I need to be significantly higher?
Trying to be responsible :grin::+1:
Thanks in advance.

I don’t think the CAA have ever said a motorway (or any highway) is a “congested area” so the 150m should not apply. And I would, like you, apply Pythagoras’ Theorem based on 50m separation.

Having said that, there’s no way I’d fly that close to a busy motorway unless I felt certain I wouldn’t distract drivers. This is about assessing and mitigating the risks, not about applying rules blindly.


Absolutely. There are trees & bushes between so the drone would be hidden but not necessarily all the way & I wouldn’t want to distract a driver hence the other comment.
Common sense would be applied.

I’d personally avoid busy times anyway.

I’d want to be 50m linear away, rather than the bubble and be facing away from the motorway. I’d take the motorway fence as the boundary of the motorway. Nothing on the motorway could be in your “control” so that distance would be the minimum.

Personally I wouldn’t do it. The (unlikely) chance of a fly-away next to a motorway or any other fault just wouldn’t be worth it. That’s just me though


I’ve flown along side it, but kept what I considered to be a safe distance.


By far the biggest danger to people on the motorway is the other people on the motorway.


Quite likely the case :rofl:.

A lot of people think that a “congested area” has to do with people. It does not. The term used by the CAA refers to the use of the land whereby a village, town or settlement is predominantly used for habitation, recreation, commercial or industrial use. Hobbyists need to be 150m from congested areas. People and structures have a separate distance stipulated in the Air Navigation Order within Article 95.

Thank you Uccello but that doesn’t help me. Like you mention congested doesn’t just mean people hence why I asked busy or quiet also it’s a live motorway so not just a structure. I can’t find any specific rules that cover this scenario so again it’s conjecture.
I would pick a quiet morning or potentially Sunday afternoon as people coming to the area is at its lowest Sunday afternoons lol
I will not be flying if it’s busy or congested.
I would aim to keep as big a distance as is possible fro the carriageway but this will be less than 150m (There lies the question)
Also acting responsibly I revisited the sight yesterday afternoon & I could keep the drone out of sight for about 98% so loosing the 2% track I can resolve in the edit. That way I would not cause a visual distraction to any drivers. :blush:

Why doesn’t it help you? I have given you the distances and definitions involved and the regulations that apply. A motorway is a structure, whether it has cars in it or not. The use of a busy motorway by lots of drivers has a different risk assessment to one that is empty. The CAA allow for that by stipulating what the pilot should be doing. Look at Article 94(2) of the ANO. The pilot must be satisfied the flight can safely go ahead. No rule will be able to cover every eventuality. However, if you cause a driver to be distracted on the motorway and an accident occurs it is you who will have to justify your actions, probably in a court of law. That hasn’t been done yet, which is why the responsibility rests with the pilot. More than happy to discuss any other issues. Once again you have confused yourself what congested means. The volume of cars on the road does mean it is congested. I refer you to my earlier quote from the CAA.

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In case it isn’t clear, the CAA website says:

A congested area means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes’.

A motorway outside a city, town or settlement cannot therefore be a “congested area”, as far as the CAA are concerned. Of course, it’s not the CAA you need to answer to if anything goes wrong, they don’t make the law nor do they enforce it.

Doesn’t not does. Auto corrupt!

Ok thank you. I am aware as we all should be of the two rules your mentioning:-
ANO 2016 94-(2) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
Clearly this overrules any flight & puts the responsibility on to the pilot (me) I get that & that’s why out of sight is also a priority for me re distraction.

ANO 2016 95-2 ©
within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft;

Maybe I am confusing myself with congestion rules as according to the Highway Code driving at 70mph you could only have 6 vehicles on the entire carriageway at any given time in a 150m section, :joy: regardless, non will be under my direct control so fair point section © would apply.

Safety is paramount & I ALWAYS put this 1st & for peace of mind will be thinking along the minimum 50m rule.


Yes confusing yourself by connecting two different things. The Drone Code Offers guidance and is taken from the ANO. The Highway Code is like the Drone code in that it offers guidance and the Traffic Act is the law as is the ANO. One refers to ground operated vehicles and the other is for aircraft. The laws are completely independent. I’m sure you don’t think aviation law is relevant when you are driving your car and neither should it unless a plane crashes on you!:wink:

When all else is said and done… :point_up_2: and :point_down:

I’ve said on here before, I’m a bit of a stickler for rules. But where they’re ambiguous (and the ‘congested area’ rule really is open to a good bit of interpretation) I think it’s about whether you genuinely believe what you’re going to do is within the spirit of the rules… and the yardstick for me is that if something goes wrong am I confident that I could explain my actions and why I thought they were safe and reasonable.

A lot of what I do in my day job is governed by a strict Change Control process - risky changes need to be planned, tested, scheduled and approved before we can do them. If anybody asks “Do I need to raise a Change for this?” the answer is always “If you need to ask then it needs a Change”.

I’d probably apply similar logic to congested areas - if my instinct is that somewhere might be a ‘congested area’ and I can’t find anything to convince me with certainty that it’s not, then it probably is.

With that in mind, I can’t give a definitive answer on the motorway question and I’m not sure anybody else here could either.

For what it’s worth though, I agree with Lee:

I wasn’t connecting the Drone Code & the Highway Code :crazy_face: but I was getting confused on ANO 95. Congestion & structure.

Thank you for your input I reckon I’ve got it sorted now :+1::+1:


Exactly. Rubber necking at accidents etc.
Bearing this in mind. You maybe a safe distance away but is there a chance the drones presence may distract.

So many accidents show that drivers can’t see the car in front of them, they’ll never see a drone 50ft up.




Maybe not but what if the kid in the seat behind them staring around suddenly shouted “mummy/daddy what’s that in the sky”.

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