A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

For additional information visit the LaserPointerForums.com safety forum

For additional information visit the
LaserPointerForums.com safety forum

Concerned about laser pointers? Want them used safely?

Welcome to LaserPointerSafety.com. We are an independent resource for users, regulators, pilots, media, law enforcement 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…
…and much more information. Check the menu at left or the sitemap page for a list of our many pages.

Recent laser pointer news

We have three pages filled with news items about aviation incidents, non-aviation incidents, and statistics, laws and all other news. There are hundreds of items on each page, going back years and even decades.

The news items are fully indexed so you can find stories on the topics you want. More into on how to use the category and tag indexes is here.

Below are a few of the most important recent news items. Some items include charts that will NOT appear if you are using Internet Explorer. Please view with another browser.

Laser/aircraft illumination incident statistics

See the Laser/aircraft incident statistics page, for charts from various countries, plus links to additional statistics.

Informative charts and videos

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A helicopter being deliberately targeted by a laser pointer. The light is a distraction and, if bright enough, can cause temporary flashblindness. It is NOT likely to cause any permanent injury. A video of this incident is here.

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In most incidents, the beam only directly hits the aircraft windscreen a few times. That’s because it is almost impossible to hand-hold a laser onto a target hundreds or thousands of feet away. For example, these frames show 8 seconds of a laser illumination. Only in one of the frames — 1/2 second out of 8 — does a direct hit obscure the pilot’s vision. Of course, the waving beam is a distraction.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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. As of August 2018, this has had over 7.3 million views on YouTube.

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.
More details on this unfortunate situation are in an in-depth December 2016 Ars Technica article by Cyrus Farivar, which is summarized here.

See how far lasers can be a hazard

Laser Hazard Distance Calculator
Choose from common laser powers and types:
Results are automatically shown below, unless you are using Internet Explorer in which case all results will be "0" — please use another browser.
Eye hazard results:
NOHD:  feet (eye safe beyond this distance)
( 32.8 / [mrad] ) * ( sqrt ( 0.5 * [mw] ) )
Beyond the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance, laser light directly entering the eye is considered safe. Specifically, at the NOHD distance there is “a negligible probability of damage” according to the laser safety standard ANSI Z136.1.

The light level (irradiance) at the NOHD is at the Maximum Permissible Exposure or MPE. Farther than the NOHD, the irradiance falls below the MPE, and is generally considered safe.
ED50:  feet (50-50 chance of small injury)
( ( 32.8 / [mrad] ) * ( sqrt ( 0.5 * [mw] ) ) / 3.16 )
At the ED50 distance, there is roughly a 50-50 chance that a fixed laser beam aimed into an unmoving eye under laboratory conditions will cause the smallest medically detectable change to the retina. Such small changes can heal just as small skin cuts and burns can heal with no adverse effect.
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The ED50 distance is about 1/3 of the NOHD. The extra space between the ED50 distance and the NOHD gives an added “safety margin” or “reduction factor.” Beyond the NOHD, the laser light is considered unlikely to cause any eye injury.

Being exposed to laser light within the NOHD does NOT mean that a person will automatically receive an eye injury, or even is likely to have an injury. The NOHD is a “nominal” hazard distance, not an actual hazard distance. The closer the person is to the laser, the greater the chance of an injury, as indicated by the colors above.
Visual interference results:
( ( 32.8 / [mrad] ) * ( sqrt ( 12.7 * [mw] * ( [vcf] / 1 ) ) ) )
( ( 32.8 / [mrad] ) * ( sqrt ( 12.7 * [mw] * [vcf] ) ) ) * 4.47
( ( 32.8 / [mrad] ) * ( sqrt ( 12.7 * [mw] * [vcf] ) ) ) * 44.7 0 0 0
For a full-featured laser hazard distance calculator which explains the inputs and the results in detail, click here. For a beam diameter and irradiance calculator, click here.

Understand why laser beams are less hazardous at greater distances

While laser beams may look thin, they do get wider — and thus less hazardous — with distance:
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Take for example a laser pointer with a tight 1 milliradian beam. The beam is a millimeter or two in diameter at the exit aperture. At 50 feet (15 m) it has spread to over 1/2 inch (15 mm) in diameter. At 500 feet (150 m) — the height of a hovering helicopter — it has spread to 6 inches (150 mm) across.

A human pupil is about 0.16-0.28 inches (4-7 mm) across, depending on lighting conditions. If a beam is, say, 6 inches across, then clearly most of the beam power does not go through the pupil:

2017-08 laser diameter compared to 7mm pupil_600w

That’s why a laser beam that can pop balloons or light cigarettes up close, could be eye-safe hundreds of feet away.

Now, an eye-safe beam may still be very bright. It could cause temporary flashblindness, or vision-blocking glare, or be a distraction. This would be a hazard to persons such as pilots during critical phases of flight. The second part of the calculator above lists the distances for those visual interference hazards.    

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.