Government responds to laser pointer risk

Many times, we have been sent reports of pilots of air ambulance helicopters being the victim of pranksters wielding laser pointers – thankfully, whilst none of the incidents have so far resulted in a fatality or serious injury to the pilot and their passengers, it is nonetheless concerning that peoples’ lives are being put at risk.

The response from the UK government noted: “There was a significant response to the Call for Evidence from pilots who were concerned about laser pointer attacks. There have been no recorded cases of damage to vision of pilots from laser attacks (laser pointers directed from the ground at planes in flight). Due to the broadening and weakening of the laser beam light with distance, there is no risk of permanent vision damage. Rather, the danger comes from the distraction that laser pointers can cause to pilots. Any strength of laser pointer, down to ‘safe’ pointers under 1mW, pose some degree of risk. All of the pilots who had responded to the Call for Evidence had themselves been victims of laser attacks, usually more than once. Many pilots said that they had experienced attacks outside of the UK, in countries both within and outside of the European Union.”

Now, the UK government has listened to these worries, and - following input from pilots, ophthalmologists and other parties - is taking action to improve the frequency and resourcing of enforcement activities at ports and borders with the aim of improving safety of the market for laser pointers and increasing enforcement activities against imports of dangerous high-powered laser pointers. Manufacturers are being asked to put clearer labelling on their products about the dangers of pointing it into faces, and an education campaign aimed at children will also be started.

“Many pilots called for the strictest restrictions, licensing and penalties around laser pointer possession and misuse,” noted the government response. “They stressed the seriousness of such attacks and many expressed the view that it was ‘only a matter of time’ before a laser attack resulted in a significant accident. Some pilots supported raising awareness of the danger of shining a laser pointer at a plane and of the penalties that could be incurred by doing so. On the other hand, some pilots expressed wariness with regards to a potential public awareness campaign, fearing that this could serve to increase copycat laser attacks. The most significant demand from pilots – for a harsher penalty for laser attacks on planes – is addressed in the government’s Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill currently going through Parliament. The Bill creates a new offence of shining a laser at aircraft and other modes of transport, which directly and effectively addresses the concerns raised by pilots in response to the Call for Evidence.”

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