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UK: "Call for evidence" response summarizes many groups' views on laser eye, plane incidents; sets forth actions

[NOTE: This news item includes commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com, as we feel the U.K. report is a must-read which gives important guidance on laser pointer hazards and actions.]

The U.K. government published on January 8 2018 a 14-page report on laser pointer safety and potential regulation. The report includes two new actions the government will take to reduce the number and risk of unsafe laser pointers:

     1) “strengthening safeguards to stop high-powered lasers entering the country”, and
     2) “working with manufacturers and retailers to [voluntarily] improve labeling.

Separately, the U.K. government published the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill on December 20 2017. This makes it illegal to point a laser at vehicles, with a prison term of up to five years and an unlimited fine.

“Laser pointers: call for evidence - government response”

From August 12 to October 6 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened a “Call for Evidence” consultation. BEIS set forth 19 questions, asking the public to give their views on laser pointer hazards and what actions to take.

The January 8 2018 government response summarizes the 265 responses received.

The report is especially useful because it incorporates the views of many disparate groups: pilots (64% of respondents), “concerned members of the public” (14%), professional laser safety advisors (9%), users of laser pointers (6%), ophthalmologists (6%), and Trading Standards authorities (2%).

The report then distills these views, finding surprising commonality. It is a good overview for the non-expert on two topics:

     1) Actual laser pointer hazards — separating fact from fear
     2) Potential actions to reduce the number and severity of laser pointer injuries and incidents — including what actions may not work (e.g., licensing).

We have summarized the findings below (click the “read more” link). However, reading the complete document is well worth the time of anyone interested in this issue.

The problems

Respondents identified two problems with laser pointers: permanent eye damage — primarily to children — and the risk to aviation from safe but bright-light dazzling of pilots.


The eye damage cases are generally caused by high-powered laser pointers. The document does not specify how much power is “high”, but it would be above the U.K. legal limit of 1 milliwatt.

Many cases involve children “…as they are intrigued by [lasers’] appearance, are less likely [than adults] to understand the dangers or use them safely and, in addition, may lack protective mechanisms of blinking and gaze aversion that adults exhibit.” In cases where eye damage occurred, “…neither children nor parents had been aware of the risks…”


The pilot dazzling cases can be caused by lasers of any power, including U.K.-legal laser pointers. The document noted that “[t]here 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.”

The market

Where do U.K. citizens obtain high-powered laser pointers? The responses indicated that these were purchased while overseas, or from the internet. The report stated that is difficult to identify and stop such small-scale importation.

Interestingly, there were few or no responses from retailers or manufacturers of laser pointers.

The only responses from laser pointer users were from members of astronomy societies. Amateur astronomers’ need for pointers does not exceed 50 milliwatts for the most extreme star-pointing applications (demonstrating to large groups, in clear air, with city-bright skies). The amateur astronomers all were aware of the risks to eyesight and pilots from using laser pointers. They did not want “heavy-handed” licensing or restrictions.

The 9% of respondents from the general public were almost all concerned with pilot dazzling, and not with eye injury risk. In addition, almost all said they had brought high-powered lasers into the U.K. with ease. Finally, despite having a greater-than-normal interest in lasers, among the public “there was little awareness of the detail of current regulation (e.g. classification of laser strength by class).”

Potential actions

The response listed a few concrete actions to be taken as a result of the Call for evidence:


     “Government will take action to improve frequency and resourcing of enforcement activities at ports and borders….

     “We will work with local authority ports and borders teams to prioritise the checking of imports of laser pointers coming into the UK. We will allocate a grant of £100k to local authority teams to ensure an immediate and targeted impact on noncompliant importers. BEIS will co-ordinate this activity and ensure local authority teams have access to the necessary scientific, technical and testing expertise.

     “We will also work with the online retailers through their established Primary Authority arrangements to support stricter policies and more effective policing of laser pointers advertised for sale online.”


In addition, BEIS will seek to improve product labeling through voluntary action by retailers and manufacturers. A number of respondents noted that labels with the laser class (e.g. “Class 3R”) or milliwatts (e.g. “50 mW”) “may be meaningless to non-specialist consumers.”

     “BEIS will work towards achieving [improved labeling] through encouraging retailers and manufacturers to develop a voluntary code of practice. BEIS will also work with Primary Authorities with relationships with online retailers to adapt their sales policies regarding laser pointers.”


Both eye health experts and laser safety experts supported educating the public about laser pointer hazards. This would target both school-age children, and their parents, to let them know that pointers are not a toy.


Those who wanted “the strictest restrictions, licensing and penalties” were pilots.

Their concern is partially addressed in the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill going through Parliament as of early 2018. This makes it illegal to aim a laser at a vehicle; previously it was necessary to prove intent to interfere. It also has new penalties of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Some pilots wanted an increased public education campaign, while others cautioned that this could lead to “copycat laser attacks”.

Other options considered

The government response noted that while the general public does not need high-powered pointers, restrictions will probably not help reduce the number of incidents:

     “Overwhelmingly, responses suggest that (perhaps with the exception of astronomers) there is no reason a member of the public needs a high powered laser pointer. However, the evidence gathered from the Call for Evidence does not indicate that a ban or licensing regime would have a positive impact towards this goal. Professional laser safety advisors provided data- backed evidence in this area. The evidence gathered shows that laser pointer bans or licensing systems have had the opposite effect to that which was intended, i.e. rates of laser attacks have gone up as a result of restrictions on laser pointers.”

The experiences of New Zealand and Australia were described. In both countries, the number of incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft rose after bans or restrictions were enacted.

The report also noted that when laser pointers are brought in to the U.K. by individuals coming from overseas, or ordering small quantities on the internet, it is easy to evade a licensing scheme.

The original Call for Evidence had asked about the possibility of a ban on advertising of laser pointers. Respondents answered that laser pointers were not advertised in the U.K., except for online which would be from overseas sellers and thus not subject to U.K. law.

Respondents also said that in the U.K. and online, laser pointers are marketed towards adults, although “they are marketed to children in holiday destinations such as Egypt and Mediterranean countries, which is outside the scope of our regulatory framework.”


The report concluded with the following paragraph:

     “Government will implement the actions outlined above. This will involve working across government departments, with stakeholders including laser safety professionals, and Trading Standards Authorities. Increased market surveillance and enforcement activities, in partnership with improved labelling and awareness raising among consumers, will be a significant step towards lowering prevalence of incidents caused by misuse of laser pointers and unsafe laser pointers.”

From “Call for evidence: laser pointers - government response”, published January 8 2018 by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Thank you to John O’Hagan for bringing this to our attention.