Shining laser pointers at planes will now get you five years in jail and unlimited fines

Shining a laser pointer at an aircraft, as well trains, buses, boats and hovercraft, will soon mean a lengthy jail sentence, and unlimited fines.

The stricter measures come from the Department for Transport as part of its move to crackdown on the misuse of easily bought laser pens. Under current legislation, shining one of these devices at an aircraft can lead to fines of up to £2,500.

That figure, as well as the types of vehicles encompassed by the rules, have been expanded in the laser misuse (vehicles) bill, published today.

Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for lasers, has emphasised that shining a laser at a moving vehicle is “deeply irresponsible and dangerous”.

“Laser attacks can lead to catastrophic incidents,” he said. “These new and robust measures send a clear message to perpetrators: laser attacks are a crime and serious consequences will follow from committing this offence.”

Under the new rules, prosecutors will no longer need to prove someone intended to endanger a vehicle. Even dazzling or distracting an operator – either deliberately or through avoiding precautions – will be enough to classify as an offense.

There are around 1,500 incidents a year of aircraft pilots being targeted by laser pointers in the UK, with the first recorded case being 2004. Aviation minister Baroness Sugg warned that misuse of these lasers can have “fatal consequences”.

“The Government is determined to protect pilots, captains, drivers and their passengers and take action against those who threaten their safety,” she said.

Why are laser pointers dangerous?

Laser pens can be bought on the high street and are generally intended to be used as pointers in presentations or classroom lessons. Unlike the light bulb in your living room, which produces divergent radiation – meaning it spreads out – the laser produces a narrow wavelength band of radiation. This lets it form a concentrated beam that can travel over large distances.

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This concentrated light can be damaging to a person’s vision. The cheaper laser pens aren’t able to keep their level of concentration for too large a distance, so are only likely to temporarily dazzle a person more than a few metres away. More powerful lasers come with a more concentrated beam, and this can cause serious damage to an eye. Class Four lasers (the highest class) could even cause blindness.

As you can imagine, having a laser flashed into your eye and disrupting your vision while you’re operating an aircraft is a pretty horrendous situation. Not only can the sudden bright light momentarily blind an operator, but the unexpected flash can lead to panicking.

Is it illegal to own a laser pointer?

Owning a laser pointer is not illegal, but misusing it by shining it at a moving vehicle is. Lasers are classed in four main categories:

  • Class 1: (Class 1, Class 1C, Class 1M) Used in laser printers and CD players.
  • Class 2: (Class 2, Class 2M) Used in laser pointers and barcode scanners.
  • Class 3: (Class 3R, Class 3B) Used in laser pointers, research and physiotherapy treatment.
  • Class 4: (Class 4) Used for cutting metal, by the military and in laser surgery.

Public Health England’s guidance on laser pointers says: “Devices intended for use by consumers should not be Class 3B or Class 4 laser products,” meaning that commercial laser pens should be on the lower end of the spectrum, although higher classed lasers can be bought over the internet.

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