A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

What should be done about laser pointers?

A note from the website’s editor: Since founding this website in 2008, I have tried not to make personal recommendations regarding laser pointer safety. My main goal is to present facts and to let the reader draw their own conclusions.

However, this webpage is in the “Perspectives & Opinions” section of the website. This page lists my personal suggestions. They are all based on my
long experience since the early 1990s working in the area of laser/aircraft safety, and as one of the few persons who compiles stories and statistics on laser pointer misuse.

Here is a summary of recommendations to help reduce laser incidents and injuries:

  • The best and fastest way to protect pilots and passengers is by pilot education and training. After training, pilots will know how to protect themselves and their aircraft. They will not overreact. Training is necessary because experience has shown that efforts on the ground have not and cannot end all laser pointing incidents. The pilot is literally the last line of defense, and thus needs the help and reassurance of training.

  • This education and training can be done by individual pilots, pilot unions, and airlines. It does not necessarily require government involvement, although it would be best if aviation authorities required standardized training. Pilots, unions and airlines can take control of their own destiny instead of expecting this job to be done by others via bans, regulations, public education and laws which have proven to be of marginal help at best.

  • Import and usage restrictions, stricter laws against misuse, and increased prosecutions may help somewhat. However, no one should think that these will significantly reduce laser/aircraft incidents at least in the short and mid-term. The experience of countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which have instituted restrictions starting as far back as 2008, have not shown significant decreases. In fact, in some cases, incidents have increased substantially after bans, restrictions, or new laws were put into place.

  • Similarly, education efforts are not affecting the lasing rate. There are some indications that "getting the word out" may even cause incidents by persons who previously didn't realize lasers could reach aircraft, and persons who are anti-government or who disbelieve official information.

  • Putting labels on lasers, warning about misuse against aircraft and persons, may help somewhat — but many people do not read or heed labels.

Here are a few additional suggestions:

  • Consider a buyback program for laser pointers. This would be similar to gun buyback programs in some nations and U.S. states. It might be useful to begin with a pilot program in a city, state or region to see if this leads a significant reduction in laser/aircraft incidents and in laser pointer injury reports. Unfortunately, in many cases gun buyback programs did not significantly lower firearm crime rates.

  • Hold regular meetings of persons in national aviation authorities (U.S. FAA, U.K. CAA, Transport Canada, CAA New Zealand, etc.) and others who are working to reduce laser/aircraft incidents. This would allow sharing of ideas, to discuss what programs are working and what are not. It also allows early warning if there are new types of lasers or misuse. (Existing groups such as SAE G10OL or ASC Z136.6 are somewhat similar in focusing on laser/aviation safety, and national aviation authority personnel are welcome to join. However these groups are primarily standards-based so much of their time is spent in wordsmithing standards documents.)

  • Jurisdictions could require a pre-purchase test or signed agreement, so the buyer understands safe use of the laser pointer. At least one online laser pointer company required such a test before allowing their high-powered handheld lasers to be purchased. In February 2013, a North Myrtle Beach, SC ordinance required persons buying laser pointers to read and sign a short statement about hazards.

Details on many of these suggestions are below.

Note: All data above is as of February 15 2016, with a minor update June 28 2018.