A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
Concerned about laser pointers? Want them used safely?
Welcome to LaserPointerSafety.com. We are an independent resource for users, regulators, pilots, media and others concerned with handheld portable lasers.
While laser pens are useful and fun, they are all too often misused. This website has details such as…
- what makes lasers hazardous to aviation
- why you should never aim laser pointers at aircraft
- basic principles of laser hazards
- laser pointer incidents and news
- the latest statistics on aircraft incidents
- a laser pointer FAQ, and fast facts for media
- a video from the FAA and Air Force
- how to report a laser incident
- laser safety glasses for pilots
Update December 2016: Do not aim Christmas “star” laser projectors into the sky
Home laser light projectors for Christmas use were first introduced in 2015, and have become more widespread in the 2016 holiday season. Here is a summary of our tips for safely using the original “Star Shower” (shown below) and similar laser projectors.
Home laser projector safety tips
The Star Shower is essentially eye-safe, and does not cause direct interference (glare) with pilots’ vision after about 411 feet. However, a single beamlet can be a distraction to pilots at least 3/4 of a mile away, and possibly further away due to the large number of laser dots aimed into the sky causing a flashing effect.
For this reason, a Star Shower needs to be aimed so that beams don’t go into airspace. You do not want an officer knocking on your door because a pilot saw and reported your home laser projector. While it is unlikely you would be arrested for an unknowing aircraft illumination, federal penalties for laser pointer misuse range up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Putting the projector closer to a house will keep more of the beams on the structure. Similarly, don’t aim it up into a tree unless the tree is very dense, such as an evergreen.
It should also be noted that there are reports such as this and this of Star Showers being stolen from yards. If you put your projector on a roof or up in a tree, aiming downwards, this both helps aviation (no beams going up into the air) and makes it harder to steal the projector. Finally, if you are in a heavy air traffic area, you might want to consider restricting it to indoor use only.
More information is in our 2015 news item and analysis about the original “Star Shower” laser projector.
Update October 2016: FDA wants to allow only sales of red laser pointers
On October 25, the Food and Drug Administration proposed significant changes to U.S. federal laser pointer laws. Their intent is to designate all laser pointers that are not red as “defective.” This designation would prohibit U.S. sales of green, blue and other non-red pointers and would make it easier for FDA to control and seize imports of such lasers.
For a detailed description of the proposal, and FDA’s rationale behind this move, see our October 26 2016 news story.
Informative photos, charts and videos
A helicopter being deliberately targeted by a laser pointer. The light is a distraction and, if bright enough, can cause temporary flashblindness. A video of the incident is here.
Public domain photo from the U.S. FAA, showing how a laser beam spreads over long distances and can fill the windscreen. The FAA’s highest-resolution version is here.
This diagram shows the hazard distances of a 5 mW green laser pointer. Click to enlarge.
This diagram shows various ways to help reduce laser pointer incidents. Click to enlarge.
Click for a 2015 video from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about the eye and bright light hazards of laser pointers. Includes tips about safe purchase and use.
These colorful characters depict “Dumb Ways to Blind”, a 2014 public service video that warns the Internet generation about the many ways lasers can be misused.
Learn from his mistake - don’t aim lasers at aircraft
A California man wrote a letter apologizing for aiming a laser at a sheriff’s helicopter. He describes how it ruined his life:
I was convicted of one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft and sentenced to 24 months in a federal penitentiary, then 36 more months of supervised release for a total of 60 months — five years — plus ordered to pay a special assessment fee of $10,000. I am very lucky the pilot was an expert and highly skilled at piloting the helicopter.
I also want to educate anyone who owns a laser and might be inclined to use it the way I did: Learn from my mistake. I am now just getting out of prison. I have paid dearly, for I have lost my girlfriend, my dog, my home, my vehicle. Everything I owned, everything I have worked for 30 years of my life, is gone.
For shining a laser at a helicopter for three seconds, I lost my entire life. I am now 54 years old and I have no one and nothing but the clothes I was given when I was released from prison.
Laser illumination incidents
Note: In addition to the information below, our latest news stories about laser statistics are here.
In 2015, there were 7,703 laser illumination incidents reported by pilots to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. This is a significant increase over the past four years, which had hovered around 3,500-4,000 incidents per year. It is estimated that in 2016 there will be over 8,500 reported illuminations.
Below is the same data, presented to show the number of illuminations reported each day:
For a more detailed chart showing 2014 and 2015 incidents, see the news item about the 2015 totals. Additional charts from 2014 are on the page giving 2014 statistics. For more details on 2013 illuminations, such as the most common laser color, the areas that had the most reports, etc. see the webpage 2013 laser/aircraft incidents. We also have a separate webpage with historical data such as the above, looking at the rise in incidents from 2004 through 2014.
In Canada, there were 663 laser incidents in 2015, based on analysis of a Transport Canada database. This was up from 502 incidents the year before.
According to the Daily Mail, “Between 2009 and June 2015 more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.”
Australia banned laser pointers over 1 milliwatt in 2008. Note that the number of laser illuminations of aircraft continued to rise for four years after the ban. The number did begin to decrease in 2013, and leveled off at about 3.5 times the 2007 rate (just before the ban).
This is an indication that a ban on laser pointers may not work — at least, not immediately — to bring down the number of laser incidents. Plus, a ban may have unintended consequences. Pilots in Australia need to remain vigilant and knowledgeable about laser effects, despite the country’s 2008 ban.
A special message for laser pointer users
There are far too many incidents where airplanes, helicopters, vehicles, athletes and ordinary citizens are harassed by laser pointer beams. It is annoying, at best. It can be unsafe if the beam gets in someone’s eye or if it causes a driver or pilot to be distracted or flashblinded. You personally can get arrested and even jailed.
Plus, laser incidents create a bad image and can lead to laser pointers being banned. This has happened in a number of areas. (In New South Wales, you can be fined for possessing a laser pointer, and you can go to jail for up to 14 years for a laser assault.) There are strong calls in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. to restrict or ban lasers.
It is really simple: NEVER aim a laser beam at an aircraft, a vehicle, or towards strangers. In other words, DON’T ANNOY PEOPLE WITH THE LASER BEAM.
For more specific information about laser pen hazards and safe use, see the various topics in the menu at left. For a quick summary aimed at consumers, check out the FDA’s December 2010 safety notification.
Test line: NoiR, LaserArmor, LaseReflect, Kentek