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Call for laser pointer evidence

The UK Government is calling for evidence into the regulation of laser pointers, including the potential value of retail licensing schemes, advertising restrictions, and potential restrictions on ownership.

The Department for Business says it’s seeking to address public safety concerns due to an increase in laser incidents in recent years. The department points to a survey of UK ophthalmologists that found over 150 incidents of eye injuries involving laser pointers since 2013, most involving children.

The air traffic regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has reported an increase in incidents of laser pointers being directed into the cockpits of helicopters and planes on take-off and landing. As for such crime against the railways, the authorities suggest incidents are under-reported since such offences are not recordable as a crime. The Government says it’s already working with online retail sites such as Amazon to see that where unsafe laser pointers are identified they are removed from sale, while admitting that the products are available on the high street and easy to buy abroad and bring back to the UK.

Business Minister, Margot James, said: “Public safety is of the utmost importance and we must look carefully to make sure regulations are keeping up with the increased use of these devices. Whilst we know most users don’t intend any harm, many are not aware of the safety risks and serious health implications of shining laser pointers directly into people’s eyes. Used irresponsibly or maliciously, these products can and do wreak havoc and harm others, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

“That’s why we want to hear from business groups, retailers and consumers about the best way to protect the public from this kind of dangerous behaviour and improve safety.”

Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said: “When a laser is shone into a pilot’s eye, they experience a bright flash and a dazzling effect. This can distract them and leads to temporary loss of vision in the affected eye. Startling, dazzling and distracting a pilot at a critical stage of flight has the potential to cause a crash and loss of life. This is especially a problem for helicopters, which operate close to the ground and are sometimes single pilot operations.

“There is also a growing concern that, as the power of available lasers increases, the possibility of permanent damage being caused to pilots’ and passengers’ eyes increases. We would like to see the laser threat taken very seriously before there is a fatal accident and BALPA therefore supports the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in their call for evidence.”

The call for evidence closes on Friday, October 6.

The law

Under Article 225 of the Air Navigation Order (ANO) (2016), “A person must not in the United Kingdom direct or shine any light at any aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of the aircraft”. This is a summary only offence; the maximum penalty for this offence is a fine up to £2,500. Article 240 of the ANO has been used to prosecute offenders who have shone a laser at an aircraft.


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