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UK: New law proposes prison for aiming laser pens at aircraft, trains, cars, other vehicles

The U.K. Department for Transport on February 5 2017 said it would propose a new law making it illegal to shine laser light towards an aircraft, train, or road vehicle.

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.
There are about 1,500 aircraft lasing incidents in the U.K. each year. (The per capita number of incidents in the U.K. and U.S. is roughly equal; about one incident for every 43,000 persons.)

The DfT said there were 2,844 laser/aircraft incidents in 2013 and 2014, with only 44 persons being found guilty (about 1.5% of all incidents).

A British Transport Police spokesperson said that in 2014 and 2015, there were 118 incidents where lasers were aimed at the drivers of trains.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said “Whilst we know laser pens can be fun and many users have good intentions, some are not aware of the risks of dazzling drivers or pilots putting public safety at risk…. This kind of dangerous behavior risks lives and must be stopped.”

Grayling said the specific new powers and penalties will be set forth in an upcoming Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill which will go through Parliament “very soon”, according to a DfT spokesperson.

A British Airline Pilots Association flight safety specialist was quoted by ITV News as saying: "Any move to give the police and authorities more powers to tackle this real and growing threat to flight safety is a good thing, and we are pleased that the Government has included action on lasers in this bill."

A 2016 editorial in the British Journal of Ophthalmology by three laser safety experts stated that from 2001 to 2016 “…pointers have been freely available [in the U.K.] with an estimated 500,000 to c1.2 million laser pointers in circulation.”

From BBC News, Sky News, ITV News, BT.com, Ars Technica UK, and the Guardian