A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
In addition, “new measures are also being introduced to tackle the sale of unsafe pointers, including more stringent testing.”
The move was supported by the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA).
It may help reduce the number of laser pen illuminations of trains (578 incidents were reported between April 2011 and November 2017) and eye injuries (more than 150 reported since 2013, mainly involving children).
Consumer Minister Margot James said the ministry is “going further than ever before” to police the sale of unsafe lasers.
The Argus quoted Professor John O’Hagan, of Public Health England’s laser and optical radiation dosimetry group.He said: “Over time we have become increasingly concerned about the dangers of growing numbers of unlabelled and incorrectly labelled high power laser pointers being bought by the public. It is tragic that we continue to see eye injuries, especially in children. Laser safety experts at Public Health England have worked closely with local authorities in stopping large numbers of these lasers reaching UK consumers. The extra protections proposed should help even further - if you have a laser and you don’t need it, remove the batteries and get rid of it.”
From The Telegraph and The Argus. The stories seem to be a result of the U.K. government publishing, on January 8 2018, a response to their fall 2017 Call for Evidence. The government response included the increased import enforcement actions.
See also the December 2017 news of a new U.K. law that provides stronger penalties for aiming at aircraft. The new import/consumer initiative seems to be part of the government thrust against illegal and overpowered laser pens.
The text of the bill is here. A House of Lords Summary Briefing, giving some background, is here.
Tough new penalties for misuse of lasers
People who target transport operators with laser devices could be jailed for up to 5 years under new laws designed to protect the public.
The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill, which was published today (20 December 2017), will also expand the list of vehicles, beyond just planes, which it is an offence to target with lasers.
Drivers of trains and buses, captains of boats and even pilots of hovercraft will be among those protected by the new legislation.
The bill will make it easier to prosecute offenders by removing the need to prove an intention to endanger a vehicle.
And it will remove the cap on the amount offenders can be fined – which is currently limited to £2,500 – paving the way for substantial sanctions. Fines could be issued in isolation or alongside a prison sentence.
The police will also be given additional powers to catch those responsible for the misuse of lasers.
Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg said:
“Lasers can dazzle, distract or blind those in control of a vehicle, with serious and potentially even fatal consequences.”
“The government is determined to protect pilots, captains, drivers and their passengers and take action against those who threaten their safety.”
Alongside their existing powers of arrest and the ability to search a person once arrested, officers will no longer need to establish proof of intention endanger to a vehicle, aircraft or vessel, making it easier to prosecute swiftly. It will be an offence to shine or direct a laser towards a vehicle if it dazzles or distracts the operator, if done deliberately or if reasonable precautions to avoid doing so are not taken.Click to read more...
The bill was introduced February 27 2017 after a number of laser pointer incidents in the state.
Although there is a similar federal law (5 years in federal prison and fine up to $250,000), the legislators who introduced the Michigan bill said the state can now prosecute, whether or not federal officials choose to prosecute. Prior to passage of the law, state or local law enforcement could not arrest laser perpetrators unless they committed a separate offense under state or local law.
The bill makes it illegal to intentionally aim “a beam of directed energy emitted from a directed energy device at an aircraft or into the path of an aircraft or a moving train.” The bill defines “directed energy device” as “any device that emits highly focused energy and is capable of transferring that energy to a target to damage or interfere with its operation. The energy from a directed energy device would include the following forms of energy:
-- Electromagnetic radiation, including radio frequency, microwave, lasers, and masers.
-- Particles with mass, in particle-beam weapons and devices.
-- Sound, in sonic weapons and devices.”
As with the federal law, there are exceptions in the bill for FAA and DOD authorized users, and for persons using a laser emergency signaling device to send an emergency distress signal.
There were actually two bills introduced by Republican state representatives Laura Cox and Tom Barrett. House Bill 4063 made it a crime to aim directed energy at aircraft or a moving train. HB 4064 also adds the laser provisions to sentencing guidelines.
HB 4063 originally passed the House March 16 2017 by a vote of 107-1. An amended version passed the Senate April 25, 111-37 and passed the House May 2, 105-2. It was sent to the Governor on May 4.
From the Detroit News (March 16 story, May 2 story), U.S. News and World Report, and the Michigan legislature website page for HB 4063.
It is more stringent than the current law which 1) only applies to aiming at aircraft, 2) requires prosecutors to prove that the perpetrator endangered the aircraft and 3) has a fine of up to £2,500 (USD $3,112).
The new law will 1) apply to a wider variety of transport modes including automobiles, 2) require prosecutors only to prove that the laser was directed towards the transport vehicle and 3) will also add the prospect of prison time to the potential punishment. The exact new fines and prison terms were not stated in the DfT announcement.
Click to read more...
A December 14 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal describes a price war between sellers of the updated Star Shower Motion, which adds movement to the laser dots.
The list price from Telebrands was $49.99. It appears they lowered the price to around $35, then Amazon and other retailers lowered their prices to $31-33. The wholesale price of the Star Shower Motion is around $30, meaning that Amazon is barely making money on selling this laser projector.
For consumers this may be good news. However, Telebrands is watching a major distributor undercut its own pricing. And, the lower prices are putting more laser projectors in the hands of consumers.
From the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Summary at Consumerist. LaserPointerSafety has run previous stories about he Star Shower, since they first became popular in 2015. Click for stories about aviation incidents and for general stories about the lights and their potential hazards.
This was the sole recommendation resulting from a September 5 2015 incident when the two pilots in a Ryanair flight, on approach to Porto Airport, were illuminated by laser light. The pilot flying was distracted and had to use his hand to shield his eyes. The pilot monitoring had temporary flash blindness lasting a few seconds. This contributed to the aircraft’s approach being “unstable.” The pilots executed a missed approach and did a go-around for a second approach; the plane then landed safely.
Portuguese officials told the Irish investigators that there is no law in Portugal against aiming a laser at an aircraft.
In 2014, there were 294 laser incidents reported in Portugal; in 2015 there were 264 such incidents. In 2014, 107 of the incidents occurred at Porto Airport; in 2015 there were 105 incidents at the airport.
From the Irish Examiner
The full text of the statement is as follows:
“The FAA’s concern is that lasers -- regardless of the source -- not be aimed at aircraft where the beams can threaten the safety of a flight. Consumers who buy laser light displays should take precautions to make sure that the lights are hitting their houses and not shining off into the sky. In situations such as this, we would start by asking the person to either adjust them or turn them off. For more information on lasers, please go to www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/“
From an FAA Eastern Division email to LaserPointerSafety.com, and from the Boston Globe. LaserPointerSafety has run previous stories about Christmas and holiday laser lights such as the Star Shower, since they first became popular in 2015. Click for stories about aviation incidents and for general stories about the lights and their potential hazards.
The meeting is scheduled to occur during the week of February 22-26. A department spokesperson said on February 16 that it was too early to discuss any potential changes to laws.
From the Telegraph
The following is from the BALPA website, Feb. 15 2016. More news items referencing BALPA are here.
LASER INCIDENT SHOWS MORE ACTION IS NEEDED
Last night’s laser attack incident clearly shows why more needs to be done to tackle the growing use of lasers against aircraft.
The crew of Virgin Atlantic flight VS25 bound for New York took the decision to return to Heathrow after reportedly being attacked with a laser shortly after take off.
Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of BALPA, said,
“This is not an isolated incident. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength.
“It is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Shining a laser at an aircraft puts that aircraft, its crew and all the passengers on board at completely unnecessary risk.
“Modern lasers have the power to blind, and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight.
“We are sure the police will do everything in their power to find the culprits of this attack and prosecute them.
“We repeat our call to the Government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them. This incident shows why this is becoming more-and-more urgent.
“Pilots across the world know how dangerous laser attacks are and therefore will join with me in commending the actions of the crew of VS25 who put their passengers’ safety first and took the decision to return to Heathrow.”
“An airline pilot presented to our department complaining of a blind spot in the upper left area of his visual field in the right eye (right supero-nasal scotoma) following exposure to a laser beam while performing a landing maneuver of a commercial aircraft. At around 1300 ft (396 m), a blue laser beam from the ground directly entered his right eye, with immediate flash blindness and pain. Spectral domain ocular coherence tomography highlighted a localized area of photoreceptor disruption corresponding to a well demarcated area of hypofluorescence on fundus autofluorescence, representing a focal outer retinal laser injury. Fundus examination a fortnight later revealed a clinically identifiable lesion in the pilot’s right eye commensurate with a retinal-laser burn.”
The paper said the pilot’s symptoms “fully resolved 2 wk later” and that there was no “deficit in visual function.”
Click to read more...
Between November 18 and December 6 2015, there have been at least three incidents, involving six aircraft, where pilots were illuminated with light from “Star Shower” laser projectors. In all cases, the illumination appeared to be inadvertent. The devices were being used for holiday decorating, and stray beams went into airspace. (E.g., a person was not knowingly aiming the Star Shower at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft.)
The Star Shower emits “thousands” of laser beams from two sources, one green and one red. A homeowner can simply aim the Star Shower at her house or foliage, and instantly cover it with green, or green plus red, laser dots.
The projector head. It screws into a stake that is placed in the ground for outdoor use.
A home densely covered with laser “stars” from multiple Star Shower projectors. Both photos from the Star Shower website.
According to a comprehensive story in Inquisitr, Star Shower is so popular that it is sold out in many locations. TravelPulse calls it a “laser cannon.”
The Federal Aviation Administration on December 8 2015 tweeted “Decorating for the holidays? A stray laser could blind a pilot.” They then provided a link to general information about laser/aviation safety. An FAA spokesperson told CBS Philly, ““I don’t think anybody who buys these devices even think they have enough power to hit an aircraft in the sky…. If the box is aimed a little high, some of the lasers will not hit the roof of the house, they’ll keep going into space.”
While there is no warning on the outer packaging, the Star Shower instruction sheet says: “NOTICE: Lasers should not be projected at or within the flight path of an aircraft within 10 nautical miles [11.5 miles] of an airport. If your intended surface is within 10 nautical miles of an airport, lower the angle of the Star Shower so that no lasers point into the sky.”
In a December 9 2015 statement to NBC Los Angeles, the manufacturer added: “Star Shower Laser Lights operate by taking a single laser beam and diffracting it into thousands of individual laser beams. Each beam emitted by Star Shower is much lower in power than a typical laser pointer. Each individual laser beam is 10 times less than the maximum permissible exposure (MPE) allowed by the FAA normal flight zone (NFZ) criteria.”
In an urban or suburban environment, it is likely that most homes are within 10 NM of some type of airport. It may not be a major metropolitan airport; it could be a small general aviation facility. In a December 3 2015 incident, a Boeing 737 at 13,000 feet and 22 miles east of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, reported seeing lights from what was believed to be a “laser holiday light display.”
From the FAA, Inquisitr, NBC Los Angeles
Analysis and commentary by LaserPointerSafety.com
ADVICE FOR OUTDOOR USE
After purchasing and testing a Star Shower, here is our summary advice for consumers. Details then follow.
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.
IS A STAR SHOWER LEGAL?
Under U.S. federal law, the Star Shower is legal to own and operate. As a Class IIIa (3R) laser, there are no federal restrictions on its use. The federal law prohibiting laser pointer misuse may not apply, for two reasons. 1) It prohibits knowingly aiming at an aircraft or its flight path, and 2) the law applies to “laser pointers…designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter….” This definition would not seem to apply to a device that is not a pointer, and is not used “…to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.”
A few states or localities may have restrictions on lasers that would affect Star Shower. Since it is not a laser pointer, and is not used for pointing, restrictions that cover laser pointers may not apply (depending on the exact definition). Some selected state and local laws are here.
Common sense says that a person should not stare into the beams, and that they should not be aimed to harass others. Similarly, the beams should not be aimed down a road or up into the sky, where they could interfere with drivers or pilots.
PURCHASING AND PACKAGING
In early December 2015, we purchased a Star Shower for $40 from a CVS drugstore. The box lists a sales website at BulbHead.com, and the distributor as Telebrands. It also says “Made in China.”
Both the box and the device have the proper FDA-mandated laser safety labeling. The device is FDA Class IIIa, meaning less than 5 milliwatts output. There are two apertures, one for 532 nm green laser beams and one for 650 nm red beams. A diffraction grating in front of each laser breaks the single beam into dozens or “thousands” of less-powerful beamlets. In a foggy or smoky environment, it is possible to see the beamlets in the air, but they are too weak to be seen in clear air.
Although the Star Shower has been popular for the Christmas 2015 season, the packaging does not emphasize this. Instead it says the Star Shower is “great for” indoor, landscaping, holiday, winter and summer uses. The advantages are: “No ladders, no hanging, no dead bulbs, no mess — just plug it in.”
We took it to laser expert Greg Makhov of Lighting Systems Design Inc. for testing. Keep in mind that he tested just this one sample unit; we assume it is representative of the other Star Showers that have been sold.
Makhov used two different types of power meters, both which could measure in the microwatt and milliwatt region. He found that the maximum power of a single beam was 0.4 milliwatts. The chart below shows details.
ESSENTIALLY NO EYE INJURY HAZARD
The brightest single beam, at 0.4 mW, is below the 1.0 mW Class II limit. Class II laser pointers are generally considered to be safe for accidental exposure. Eye injury from a Star Shower would be almost impossible unless a person at close range deliberately overcame his aversion to bright light and stared for many seconds into one of the beamlets, keeping it at the same spot in his visual field.
While the chart shows the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance to be as far as 19 feet, keep in mind this is a “nominal” hazard. This does NOT mean that beams will cause injury at this distance. There is a kind of safety factor built in to the NOHD. A quick approximation is that at about 1/3 the NOHD (about 6 feet in this case), there is a 50-50 chance of a laser kept steady on the eye causing the smallest medically detectable lesion on the retina, under laboratory conditions.
GLARE UP TO 411 FEET, DISTRACTION TO 3/4 MILE
The chart also shows the visual interference hazard distances. For example, a pilot could experience veiling glare (she can’t see past the light) up to 411 feet away from the Star Shower projector. The light does not interfere with vision, but is a mental distraction, up to 4,105 feet away — a little over three quarters of a mile.
The above eye and visual interference calculations are for a single beamlet, for two reasons. First, at aviation distances, only one beamlet would enter the eye at a time. They are not so close together that two separate beamlets of the same color would be within one pupil diameter. The second reason is that even a person is so close to the Star Shower that two separate beamlets enter his pupil, each one will be focused onto a different area of the retina. This means that the beams don’t overlap — they are heating different areas. This is why we are primarily concerned — both for eye safety and for aviation interference — with the hazard of a single beamlet.
Now, when a helicopter flies through the dozens or “thousands” of laser beams, this can be more distracting than a single beam. It is no wonder that a pilot might report the laser display, and have it re-aimed or shut down.
Although an FAA spokesperson said a Star Shower was reported by a pilot who was at 15,000 feet, at this distance any single beamlet would be far below the FAA’s distraction limit. This means any beamlet would be no brighter than surrounding city or airport lights. It could be that the large number of beamlets caused flashes as the aircraft flew through them, and that this flashing was itself a distraction. Either way, no competent pilot at 15,000 feet should have any visual interference from a Star Shower. The only problem could be mental distraction, if the pilot paid more attention to the light than to flying the aircraft.
DISASSEMBLY AND HACKING (UPDATED DECEMBER 2016)
In early December 2016, Julius R. wrote to us wondering about the safety implications of opening the Star Shower and removing the star-creating holographic diffraction grating.
Our Star Shower, purchased in December 2015, has four security screws hidden behind rubber caps. The screws are at the bottom of a 2-1/4” deep shaft that is 5/16” in diameter. The screw head shape is a triangle with a raised dot in the center:
It would require a long screwdriver with a matching tip to reach and undo the screw. A brief search of Google Images to try to find such a screwdriver did not turn up any instances.
Certainly someone might be able to find such a tip, or to grind a shaft to fit. And breaking the Star Shower’s plastic housing could also give access to the inside. So if someone really wanted to get at the interior lasers, it would be possible.
We estimate that each of the lasers on the inside would be in the 10 to 50 milliwatt range. This power can cause an eye injury, although the injury would be relatively minor (assuming an unintentional exposure; deliberate staring into any laser beam should never be done). It is at the low end of Class 3B lasers.
There are similar lasers, and much more powerful ones, readily available online. They would be cost the same or even less, and would be much easier to use. So a laser hobbyist or hacker is unlikely to use a Star Shower as a source for red and green single-beam lasers.
In short, disassembly and misuse of the interior lasers is not a significant safety concern.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Anyone with further questions can contact us; click the link below in the footer at the bottom of the page.
The three groups are launching a campaign to inform the public of the dangers of aiming lasers at aircraft. A Trafi spokesperson says one person was caught misusing a laser against an aircraft, but was not convicted since the court could not establish intent.
The ministry received 18 official comments by the August 8 submission deadline. According to Dagens Medisin, “none of the answers are critical [of] mitigation in the use of laser pointers.”
The ban was supported by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), the Police Directorate and the Customs and Excise department.
The CAA said that there were around 100 incidents each year where lasers were pointed at aircraft in Norway.
If the measure is enacted, it will take effect beginning in 2015.
From Dagens Medisin, in the original Norwegian and in English (Google machine translation). The proposal and links to comments, can be found here in Norwegian, and here in English.
The newspaper also reported that in the 12 months between October 2012 and September 2013, there were 31 reports of aircraft being illuminated as they approached Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London.
Laser strikes have also increased on rescue helicopters flying out of Redhill Aerodrome, Surrey, a few miles north of Gatwick. A tactical flight officer was quoted as saying “I've had to break away from a task because of being lasered and it's not because we're trying to catch a bad guy, it's because we're trying to find people potentially in danger.... There are certain elements of society that might be trying to harm us or put us off being in a certain location.”
Police inspector Mark Callaghan told the Mirror that there have been a number of jail terms for perpetrators, but that "Hand-held lasers are easily obtained over the internet or from market stalls and street vendors abroad. The warning labels on these are misleading and they are more powerful than advertised."
From the Surrey Mirror
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said “Early data seems to show that the number of laser strikes on aircraft have plateaued at the same level as last year.” From Jan. 1 to mid-May 2014, there have been 37 laser incidents. This compares with 116 recorded incidents in all of 2013.
The legislation, which took effect March 1 2014, did not make possession of lasers over 1 milliwatt illegal, but it did restrict importation and sales.
Goodhew said over 80 retailers had been visited to remove any over-powered lasers from shelves and to remind sellers of the new restrictions. Tests showed that of 22 lasers suspected of being over 1 milliwatt, 17 were in fact over the limit. Online auction sites have been monitored. Import officials seized 10 lasers as well.
Nine applications have been submitted seeking government approval to import, supply or acquire a laser pointer over 1 mW. Five have been approved and one is being considered. (Presumably the other three were rejected.)
From Voxy.co.nz. Other LaserPointerSafety.com coverage of New Zealand statistics and laws is here.
UPDATED June 26 2014: LaserPointerSafety has received some clarifications from Jo Goodhew’s office:
1) The 37 laser strikes were from January 1 2014 to mid-May 2014.
2) A March 5 2014 article in the New Zealand Herald, which stated there were 119 recorded incidents in all of 2013, is incorrect. The correct number is 116 as stated in the main article above.
3) The statistical analysis of the “plateauing” laser incidents in 2014 was done as follows: The 37 strikes from Jan to mid-May 2014 were extrapolated to give an estimated 104 strikes for 2014. This was then compared with the 116 incidents in 2013. Although this indicates that 2014 might be a decrease compared to 2013, “at this stage we are being cautious and describing it as a ‘plateauing’.” [Note: This statistical analysis would be correct if the rate of lasing is approximately equal throughout all months of the year. However, LaserPointerSafety.com has found that the rate varies with seasons; in the U.S. incidents tend to go up during the Northern Hemisphere summer. If New Zealand’s rate also varies significantly with seasons, then the statistical analysis is flawed. It would be better to compare Jan to mid-May 2013 directly with Jan to mid-May 2014.]
TASC is working on countermeasures such as laser eye protection and the development of procedures for injury assessment. The work is being performed under the Optical Radiation Bioeffects and Safety contract with the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing’s Optical Radiation Bioeffects Branch at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
From the San Antonio Business Journal
On March 1 2014, new legislation took effect which severely restricts access to lasers over 1 milliwatts only to those with a legitimate use, such as astronomers.
A Jetstar spokesman said they regarded the pointing of lasers at aircraft as highly irresponsible and welcomed the new legislation.
Air New Zealand spokeswoman Brigitte Ransom said the new regulations were a positive step in mitigating the risks.
From the New Zealand Herald and the Manawatu Standard
Other news based on the statistics:
- In 2013, there were no incidents documented by FAA as causing eye injuries. Although there were incidents with eye effects such as temporary flashblindness, afterimage, blurry vision, eye irritation and/or headache, no incidents were serious enough to be tabulated as “eye injuries” by the agency. The FAA did say that in 2013, there were 35 incidents where pilots who were lased sought medical attention.
- The closer an aircraft is to the ground, the greater the likelihood of reporting a laser incident. There is a strong peak in the number of incidents at 1000-3000 feet above ground level.
- The color green was reportedly seen in the vast majority (92.8%) of incidents. Blue was a distant second with 2.4% of incidents.
- For states, California had the most incidents (734), followed by Texas (416) and Florida (326).
- For cities and regions, LaserPointerSafety has determined the Los Angeles area, including Van Nuys and Burbank, leads the nation with 147 incidents. Portland Oregon is second with 137 and Houston is third with 124. (Note that LaserPointerSafety.com tabulates regions slightly differently than the FAA or FBI, so these federal agencies may have slightly different numbers or rankings.)
- FAA tabulates each incident according to the closest airport. For 2013, Portland (Oregon) International led this category with 133 incidents. Phoenix Sky Harbor International was second with 111, and Marin International in San Juan, Puerto Rico was third with 107. This does not necessarily mean that incidents occurred at or near these airports -- just that these were the closest airports to the reported incident.
Full details are on the 2013 laser/aircraft incidents page.
The Tucson Police Department had about 50 lasing incidents in 2013; the perpetrator was caught in most of the cases. But there was little prosecution.
Orr says the bill is needed because “there’s really no punishment. The county prosecutor, because it's not at a felony status, doesn't go after them. And so literally, you get a ticket and nothing happens. But you're endangering lives."
Orr is working with Tucson police pilot Chris Potter, who says he has been hit by a laser pointer about 100 times in his career. Potter says a laser pointer permanently damaged his right eye around 2011.
According to News 4 Tucson, “the FBI will launch a public awareness campaign about the issue next month.” It was not clear if this was an Arizona-area initiative or nationwide.
From News 4 Tucson
UPDATED - February 4 2014: The Arizona House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of increasing the penalty for persons who point lasers at aircraft. HB 2164 would make it a Class 5 felony, with a presumptive sentence of 18 months in prison, to knowingly or intentionally point a laser at an occupied aircraft. And the penalty would go to 30 months if the act disables the pilot or causes serious physical injury to anyone on board. The legislator who introduced the bill, Ethan Orr, is considering reducing the penalty slightly, to a Class 6 felony, when it goes to the full House. Prosecutors could reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor when appropriate. Orr said this might be the case for youths so that a single mistake would not result in a felony record. From KWST.com. A related article at AZCentral.com includes comments from LaserPointerSafety.com’s Patrick Murphy on the issue.
UPDATE 2 - May 1 2014: The bill was eventually amended to make the act of aiming at an aircraft a Class 1 misdemeanor. The act became an assault if the pilot was unable to safely operate the aircraft or if anyone onboard suffered a serious physical injury. The amended version passed both legislative bodies and was sent to Governor Jan Brewer, who signed it on April 30 2014. From the Arizona State Legislature legislative history of HB2164.
UPDATE 3 - September 23 2014: The Arizona Police Association and other law enforcement groups want to increase the penalty to a felony. They hope to introduce a measure when the legislature re-convenes in January 2015.
The regulations were based in part on public submissions made in response to a November 2012 Ministry of Health proposal. Submissions were received from organisations including retailers, government agencies, non-government organisations, professional associations, importers, the aviation industry, members of the public and other organisations with an interest in high-power laser pointers. Their suggestions were compiled in a 20-page document which helped guide the new regulations.
"High-power laser pointers can cause eye injuries, even blindness, and skin burns. ACC accepts around 10 claims a year for these injuries," says Mrs Goodhew.
"They can also cause temporary flash blindness, which poses a serious risk if the person affected is a pilot or in charge of a vehicle or equipment. The Civil Aviation Authority reports around 100 laser strike incidents on planes each year.”
The new controls, under Health and Customs legislation, cover the import, supply and acquisition of high-power laser pointers. They do not currently restrict the possession of high-power laser pointers. A bill is before Parliament which, if passed, would make it illegal to be in a public place with a laser pointer without a reasonable excuse.”
"The new controls have been crafted to only target the high risk hand-held laser pointers with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt,” Goodhew said. “The regulations are in line with Australia’s restrictions and recommendations by the World Health Organization.”
Click to read more...
This compares with five laser incidents during 2012, and one during 2011.
The officials reminded the public that lasing an aircraft is illegal.
From CTV News and OHS Canada
The operation was initiated in August 2013, after multiple incidents of lasers being aimed at aircraft around Portland International Airport. Four law enforcement aircraft were equipped with video surveillance cameras.
On August 10, five aircraft were targeted by a ground-based green laser. One was an Alaska Airlines flight; two were from the FBI and two were from the Portland Police Bureau. At the same time, a surveillance team was on the ground. Using information from the FBI/PBB aircraft sightings, the ground officers observed suspicious behavior from a male in the back yard of a duplex apartment. He was looking up at the sky. He removed something mounted from a stand or pole, and went inside. The laser strikes ceased afterwards.
Six days later, after reviewing the video, consulting Google Earth and Google Maps, and visiting the apartment complex, an FBI Special Agent determined that Apartment 35 -- the one previously surveilled -- was the most likely source of the laser. The apartment was occupied by 39-year-old Stephen Francis Bukucs.
Surveillance cameras were then secretly installed, watching Apartment 35. They could see in daylight, low light and nighttime (using infrared).
Click to read more...
The Association says the lasers are too easily available, and that although it is illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft, the punishments have been too lenient: “Slaps on wrists and £150 fines are not enough.”
According to a September 29 2013 article in the Sunday Express, there were 1,570 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority in 2012, and 1,911 in 2011. The most prominent airports cited were Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the East Midlands, Bristol, Heathrow and Gatwick.
From the Sunday Express
In a September 16 2013 article, HawaiiNewsNow said there were “dozens” of inquiries about the nighttime green light. One person emailed that the aircraft circled his area about six times at 1:00 am, with a wide green laser that appeared to be scanning downward. Another email confirmed the multiple passes with a V-shaped green laser.
The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the work. They stated that the laser is not harmful to the eyes. The Oahu work should take about a week, and mapping the entire state should conclude in November.
From HawaiiNewsNow. Similar flyovers using visible green lasers have occurred in other U.S. cities, such as New York City in 2010 and 2012, according to a a brief Google search of such reports, for example here and the comments here.
The study found that helicopters were 3.4 times as likely to be illuminated at altitudes below 2,000 feet than fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopter aircrews were twice as likely to report adverse effects such as distraction, vision interference, operational problems, and pain.
The study also broke down adverse effects by the type of flight, such as commercial, law enforcement, medical and military.
One conclusion of the study is that the “results may also justify the expense of equipping rotary-wing aircraft (particularly law enforcement aircraft) with laser detection and tracking devices to improve the possibility of apprehending perpetrators of these offenses.”
A detailed summary is at LaserPointerSafety.com’s 2013 FAA helicopter study webpage. The full 6-page report is available online from the FAA.
This is roughly one-third of the 700 incidents over the same time frame that involved aircraft in or above the West Midlands. (The 480 non-laser incidents included bird strikes, emergency landings, a bomb threat, a dog on the runways and closure of an airfield because of a flying kite.)
On one occasion in July 2011, four different lasers were aimed at a police helicopter in a single incident.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association asked for prison sentences for persons caught aiming at aircraft, as well as regulations over the sale of high-powered lasers.”
According to West Midlands police, laser attacks on their helicopter have fallen in months prior to July 2013.
From the Birmingham Mail. See also a related LaserPointerSafety.com article on BALPA’s laser pointer suggestions.
BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan asked for a government cross-agency summit to address the problem. BALPA requested stronger regulations restricting the sale of high-powered lasers, more prosecutions, and action taken through trading standards.
He said that hotspots include airports at Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Heathrow.
From ITV London and ITV Granada
An April 2013 investigation by the Scottish Express found 338 incidents in Scotland from January 1 2011 through February 13 2013. Only 12, or 3.5 percent, had been solved. The paper noted that the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) suggests there are 12 incidents involving lasers each day globally. [Note: The U.S. rate is approximately 9-10 per day, indicating the rest of the world’s rate is 2-3 per day which LaserPointerSafety.com believes to be higher.] An IATA spokesperson said the organization “support[s] strong penalties for anyone caught engaging in the act.”
The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority said there were 152 laser incidents at Heathrow Airport in 2012, compared with 136 incidents at Glascow Airport which has 1/10 the number of passengers.
The Scottish Express story contains additional statistics on Scotland airport lasing rates.
From the Scottish Express
The ordinance would make it illegal to sell lasers over 1 milliwatt, or to sell any green laser to persons under 18. Adults misusing lasers would be charged with assault and battery, with a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and being held liable for any damage or personal injury. Minors misusing lasers would be prosecuted in Family Court, plus parents would be held responsible and could be fined or jailed.
In addition, a warning would be required with the sale of every laser pointer.
Under county procedure, it takes three “readings” at council meetings to pass an ordinance. Based on the council’s schedule, the earliest it could be passed would be in January 2013.
From CarolinaLive. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
A meeting was held with local officials, including representatives from Myrtle Beach, the Coast Guard, the Chamber of Commerce and the Horry County Council, to discuss options. The director of airports said that existing ordinances are not enough. He wants “a way to look at regulating the size and power of lasers that are sold in our community and region.”
Rather than local cities passing ordinances, one approach is for county-wide regulations. The topic will continue to be discussed at future county council meetings.
From CarolinaLive. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The information came at an August 1 2012 press conference where representatives from SACAA, airline pilots, a laser expert, and others spoke about the potential hazards of lasers being aimed at aircraft. SACAA was planning a public information campaign to warn about laser-aircraft hazards.
Penalties include a fine or up to 10 years in prison. But only three people have been caught. One was a minor and charges were dropped. The other two cases had “dragged on in the courts and the SACAA had lost track of them.”
From The Citizen. Additional statistics and information are in a story from Defense Web.
From StrategyPage.com and Air Force Times
From the Scotsman
Below are highlights from the document, which gives some background information and statistics, and then describes how affected crew should prepare for and react to a laser attack. (Emphasis in bold added by LaserPointerSafety.com.)
Click to read more...
On March 25 2012, an ATNS statement noted that air traffic control towers have been illuminated by laser light, in addition to airplanes and helicopters. ATNS said there have been at least two arrests, but thus far, no prosecutions.
South African aviation groups are joining together to publicize the hazards and penalties of aiming lasers at aircraft. They are also considering strengthening laws. According to the statement, laser ownership requires a permit, but illegal sales are taking place via imports and black market stores.
From The Star via Independent Online, News 24, and the Daily News. Thanks to Dr. Ian Powell for bringing this to our attention. The ATNS press release is after the link (click “Read More…”).
Click to read more...
The proposed bill would 1) establish the offense of unlawful pointing of a laser device at a law enforcement officer, and 2) prohibit aiming a laser pointer or projecting a laser on or at an aircraft or the flight path of an aircraft. The legislative history of the bill, including the full text of the Senate and House versions, is at the Georgia General Assembly website. We have also put the full text of the House version on the U.S. laws page here at LaserPointerSafety.com.
One interesting point is that the bill contains an exemption for “laser or laser pointer airspace uses that have been reviewed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.” This is a broader provision than the recently passed U.S. law, which only permits certain FAA-reviewed uses such as research and development.
In the view of LaserPointerSafety.com, the Georgia bill’s language is more flexible and still maintains safety, since they leave it up to the FAA to determine what outdoor laser uses are approved (technically, “non-objected”).
DragonMart in Dubai claims to be “the largest trading centre for Chinese products outside mainland China,” with almost 4,000 shops. A Gulf News reporter found shops selling lasers under-the-counter for AED 40 to AED 80 ($11-$22). An internet search turned up lasers for sale in Dubai and Abu Dhabi around AED 500 ($136) that were described with terms such as “draw a line in the sky,” “extremely bright green,” and could cause “permanent eye damage”.
The article noted that United Arab Emirates officials have said that illegal use of lasers could lead to fines and jail time.
From GulfNews.com and DragonMart. We have found two articles about youths in Abu Dhabi being arrested after aiming lasers at a helicopter, in June 2010 and in October 2007. Video of the June 2010 incident, uploaded by the Abu Dhabi Police, is available on YouTube (click the photo to go to the YouTube page).
Note: The FAA reports the 2011 total as 3,592. This is because the last entry in the FAA’s laser incident spreadsheet is on line 3,592. However, the spreadsheet headings are on line 1, so the actual number of 2011 incidents is 3,591 -- the number we use below.
What is an FAA-reported “laser incident”?: This is defined as an aircraft pilot seeing one or more laser beams during flight. A mid-2011 study by Rockwell Laser Industries of 6,903 incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration found that in 27% of incidents, beams entered the cockpit (passed through the windscreen). For example, in 2011, there were 3,591 incidents of which approximately 970 (27%) involved beams in the cockpit.
PowerPoint version available: A set of slides, presented to the SAE G10 aviation safety committee on Jan. 31, 2012, is available on the Files and Downloads page.
Yearly ComparisonHere are the number of incidents reported to FAA in recent years:
- 2011: 3,591 incidents (9.8 per night)
- 2010: 2,836 incidents (7.7 per night)
- 2009: 1,527 incidents (4.2 per night)
- 2008: 949 incidents (2.6 per night)
- 2007: 639 incidents (1.8 per night)
- 2006: 384 incidents (1.1 per night)
- 2005: 283 incidents (0.78 per night)
- 2004: 46 incidents (0.13 per night) involving an unknown number of aircraft Note: FAA mandated that pilots report incidents using Advisory Circular 70-2, beginning January 19 2005. Before this date, pilot reporting was voluntary.
This is a total of approximately 10,201 incidents reported to FAA, from 2004 through the end of 2011.
Adverse EffectsIn 55 of the 3,591 laser/aircraft incidents (1.5%), a pilot or aircraft occupant reported a temporary adverse visual effect such as flashblindness, afterimage, blurry vision, eye irritation and/or headache. None of these effects was classified as a recordable injury by FAA medical experts.
In these 55 incidents…
- … there were 31 reports of pain or discomfort in the eyes or elsewhere (e.g., headache).
- … there were 31 reports of vision impairment such as afterimages (10) and blurry vision (7).
- … seven persons sought medical treatment after the laser exposure.
- … one person was grounded temporarily.
- … three flights were affected: in two cases, the pilot turned control over to the co-pilot; in one case the pilot felt he had to land immediately.
Rate of increase, by yearWhile laser incidents continue to increase, during 2011 the rate of increase slowed significantly.
The rate of increase dropped 59% in 2011 (from 86.4% to 27%). If there is another 59% drop in 2012, (dashed line), then there would be a decrease in laser incidents for the first time, from 3,591 incidents in 2011 to 2,836 incidents projected for 2012.
Click to read more...
ALPA-SA is calling for public education and a ban on handheld laser sales. According to the organization, there was a temporary drop in the number of incidents after media reports earlier in 2011, but the incidents are now on the rise again.
A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said “a few cases” had been reported thus far in 2011. He added that if the International Civil Aviation Organization introduced new regulations, the CAA would “definitely look into implementing it.”
From the Cape Argus
The majority of South African incidents occurred in Cape Town, with other reports at OR Tambo, Wonderboom in Pretoria, and Lanseria International. In an incident in Lanseria, “two pilots were blinded so badly that after landing they couldn’t see the man who signaled where to park the plane” according to News24.com.
There were no persons arrested during 2011 for aiming a laser at aircraft. Over all years, there have only been two incidents resulting in arrests (as of January 11 2012):
- Around January 7-8 2012, three persons were arrested for pointing green laser beams at helicopters using the Bloemfontein civil and Air Force airports.
- During the 2010 World Cup, a man temporarily blinded a helicopter pilot in Durban
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said “It is a serious hazard to point laser lights at aircraft.” The maximum penalty for an offense is a “hefty fine and up to 30 years in jail.”
The general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association of South Africa said ALPA-SA members were reporting increasing numbers of incidents where “sudden and intense bursts of light [are] deliberately shone at aircraft…”
From The New Age and DefenceWeb
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: The figure of 70 incidents reported to ATNS in 2011 is probably low. A May 5 2011 news story quoted ALPA-SA as saying they receive between 10 and 12 complaints from pilots every week. That would result in 520 to 624 laser illuminations per year. Also, the 70-incident figure may be a misunderstanding or misquote. A news story from March 2011 quotes ALPA-SA as saying there were 70 incidents in the 10 months from April 1 2010 through February 28 2011; see News24.com.
KABC quoted the Glendora regional police helicopter tactical flight officer who was illuminated as saying “The laser could cause [eye] damage, and there’s a potential for the helicopter to crash.” The report said he and a pilot were recently trained by the FBI in how to handle a laser attack and how to track down a suspect.
Laser incidents are rising both nationwide and at local airport Los Angeles International (LAX), stated the report. It concluded by reminding the public that “any offense jeopardizes the safety of everyone.”
A spokesperson noted that several of the arrests involved young people. He said, “We’re hoping parents will see this message so they can remind their children, if they have access to laser pens, not to use them irresponsibly.”
According to the news story, the maximum penalty for recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft is a fine up to £5,000, and/or five years imprisonment.
From NewsWales. One LaserPointerSafety.com news item about a 2011 Wales conviction is here.
The tower manager, Fred Hanson, was quoted as saying he would like to make lasers illegal because “it just totally changes the light effect in the airplane.” The president of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association also called for restrictions such as licensing, and having to have a reason for possession: “They do have the potential to wreak a lot of damage.”
A spokeswoman for Air New Zealand said the airline was concerned, and they support prosecution. New Zealand law calls for up to 12 months in prison or a fine of up to $10,000 for interfering with an aircraft. In a current case, two Auckland men are being prosecuted for aiming a laser at a police helicopter.
From the Waikato Times
Note: LaserPointerSafety.com has run two stories to date about New Zealand laser incidents where the penalty was said to be up to 14 years. They can be found here.
The City Council is considering a local law to make malicious shining of lasers a Class 1 misdemeanor (up to a year in jail and a $2500 fine). According to PilotOnline.com, in 1998 Virginia Beach “was one of the first in the nation to make it a crime to shine lasers at police officers or into people’s eyes.”
The city is also planing an educational campaign to inform people about the law and laser dangers.
Commenter “Lost_Sailor” said there already is a Virginia state code, 5.1-22, “Interference with operation of aircraft,” to address the problem. He linked to a 2002 Virginia Court of Appeals case upholding the conviction of a man for using a “million candlelight spotlight” to illuminate a police helicopter. The man unsuccessfully argued that he had no intent to interfere with the helicopter; he wanted to view its registration number for a noise complaint. The man also unsuccessfully argued that his spotlight did not interfere with the operation of the aircraft.
From PilotOnline.com. The comment by Lost_Sailor was submitted on Thursday, 10/06/2011 at 6:40 pm.
A spokesperson pledged to “deal robustly with any incident involving laser light whether it is an assault on another member of the public or a device being pointed at a vehicle. Laser pen owners should also be aware that Surrey Police’s collision investigation unit can pursue a manslaughter charge if it is found that a fatal or life changing injury collision is due to the use of a laser light. All offences have a power of arrest and could result in a term of imprisonment.”
Police are especially concerned about aircraft illuminations in East Surrey, near Gatwick Airport.
From Elmbridge Today, BBC News, and Redhill and Reigate Life. A list of laser pen offences, compiled by the Surrey police, is here.
The move came after a report one week earlier about seven incidents when aircraft landing at Atlantic City International Airport had been illuminated by lasers. Police noted that while pointing at an aircraft is a crime, owning or selling lasers is not against the law.
Ocean City, New Jersey, location in relation to Atlantic City International Airport (“A” on the map above)
From the Press of Atlantic City. An earlier story (August 18 2010) has additional details about the aircraft illuminations and the efforts to stop sales; see this Press of Atlantic City article. A January 23 2011 Press of Atlantic City article updates the laser situation in the Ocean City area.
Related LaserPointerSafety.com news stories about Ocean City and New Jersey laser troubles
- August 26 2010: Ocean City officials discuss city-wide ban on laser pointers after summer incidents.
- November 22 2010: State senate bill 2430 is introduced in November 2010 to ban laser pointers above 1 milliwatt.
- June 8 2011: Man buys laser in Ocean City, points it at helicopter, and is almost immediately arrested.
- June 11 2011: Residents report harassment; voluntary sales ban is not working.
- June 24 2011: Unanimous vote on the initial measure to ban Ocean City laser pointer sales and possession.
- July 14 2011: Unanimous vote on the “second reading” to make the Ocean City ban official.
- April 16 2013: North Wildwood NJ bans sale and possession of laser pointers above 1 mW.
- August 20 2013: New Jersey state legislature passes bill to ban laser pointer sales above 1 mW; sends bill to Governor for signature.
- October 17 2013: Governor Chris Christie vetoes bill to ban laser pointer sales, saying the 1 mW power limit was “arbitrary” and there was no criminal use of lasers between 1 mW and the federal limit of 5 mW in New Jersey.
Violators could be charged with interfering with air crew duties. The Authority is looking for the laser perpetrator(s), and has posted notices in newspapers stating that shining lights at aircraft is “a security offense”. Also, several pilots have filed complaints with the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority.
From the Virgin Islands News Online
On June 8, a pilot was blinded by a laser pointer while landing a Boeing passenger plane in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, but managed to land safely. The beam came from the area of a local market.
Earlier in the week a pilot of an Airbus A320 plane was blinded by a laser light during landing at the same airport
From RIA Novosti. In addition, Pravda carried a story with some additional details. See also other LaserPointerSafety.com stories about Russian aviation incidents and laser statistics.
UPDATED - June 24 2011: The German news agency DPA reported that these attacks, and additional ones in June in Rostov-on-Don, are the result of Islamist insurgents in the Caucasus region. See this story for details and sources.
UPDATE 2 - July 5 2011: A spokesman for the Federal Air Transport Agency said there have been more than 50 cases of “laser hooliganism” thus far this year in Russia, according to Bloomberg.
The Wall Street Journal states that “[t]he change is intended to make it easier to punish violators without resorting to time-consuming criminal proceedings.”
Previously, FAA did not go after laser violators directly. FAA will now routinely bring civil charges, and these will be in addition to any other civil or criminal charges brought by others such as the FBI, or state and local law enforcement.Click to read more...
However, it turns out that this incident was caused by boys on bicycles, apparently acting without pre-planning and not knowing how the lasers would affect pilot vision. During a Feb. 2011 briefing to the SAE G10T laser safety group , FAA flight standards liaison Patrick Hempen said that the truth about Sydney has not caught up with the news stories: “The attacks are usually spontaneous in nature, perpetrated by careless or malicious persons.”
Hempen said that investigation by US and Australian officials revealed that the Sydney "cluster attack" was caused by youths, riding their bicycles on a golf course at night, who stopped and took the occasion to illuminate landing aircraft. He noted that the youths’ local community had a history of acrimony directed at the airport authority due to the construction of a new runway which caused more flights over their residential area.
Hempen also investigated several laser events in the Mideast and found many of the so-called "deliberate attacks" to be similar; they were “events perpetrated by youths, in a party-like atmosphere, without care or knowledge of the havoc that they were causing.”
Based on a Feb. 1, 2011 presentation to SAE G10T.
OPTRA Inc. Awarded Purchase Contract by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to supply Laser Event Recorders
Topsfield, MA (June 15, 2010) - OPTRA Inc. was awarded a contract by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to supply Laser Event Recorders (LER). The LERs will be used to fight the laser dazzle problem that has become an increasing problem for pilots worldwide in recent years.
The problem that pilots have been facing in increasing numbers is from people on the ground that point hand held laser devices at aircraft. Some of these lasers have a range of up to 5 miles and in some cases can cause temporary blindness for the pilot that could result in loss of control of the aircraft. With the LER being used in the cockpit of an aircraft it is possible to detect a laser pointed in the direction of an aircraft and allow the pilot to avoid eye contact while at the same time capturing critical information that can be used to locate, apprehend and prosecute the offender.
Click to read more...
The group says at least seven passenger planes were targeted by laser pointers last year at Prague's international airport as they were landing or taking off.
Pilots representative Karel Mundel said on Feb. 3 that such attacks pose a serious security risk because it could cause flash blindness and threaten pilots' ability to control planes or seriously damage their eyes.
The pilots said Czech authorities should enact a law against laser misuse like other countries, including Britain, Germany and the US.
From the Sydney Morning Herald via AAP
According the country’s DFS air traffic authority, reports of laser pointer incidents in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Saarbrücken have spiked in recent weeks. One particular incident where a laser pointer caused a “disturbance” is under investigation by the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Investigation (BFU), the organisation reported.
“In our assessment this is very dangerous,” DFS spokesperson Kristina Kelek said on Thursday.Click to read more...
Some of the more interesting quotes:
- Pilot Kevin Medlock: "It's so brilliant, it takes away part of your vision for a few minutes at least. We fly an aircraft, 148 passengers, making an approach to landing at 170 miles per hour. The consequences of someone shining a laser in my eyes at that stage of flight isn't worth bearing the consequences." Medlock was hit by laser beams twice in one month.
- "What's worrying experts is the rate at which the problem is growing:" 29 U.K. attacks in 2007, 206 attacks in 2008, and 461 in 2009 (through September).
- (video of teen walking into court) "This man said he was trying to see how far his laser could reach. Dean Bottomley was sent to jail."
- Captain Bob Jones, U.K. Civil Aviation Authority: "We're trying to raise the awareness of the general public, rather than worry or frighten them."
From BBC News
On Friday, Feb. 20, 2009 alone there were reports of incidents in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Orlando, Florida; and Burbank and San Jose, California. On Sunday, Feb. 22, 12 different jetliners landing in Seattle were illuminated by an unknown person with a laser pointer.
Information from a CNN story on the Feb. 22 Seattle attacks; see paragraphs 6 and 7. There is also a video version of this story at CNN’s website.