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Government considers laser pointer licences in crackdown after pilots are blinded

An air ambulance pilot was temporarily blinded by a laser pointer last year

Fiona Keating
Saturday 12 August 2017 17:36 BST
Many laser pointers bought online come from the Far East and can damage eyesight
Many laser pointers bought online come from the Far East and can damage eyesight (Corbis)

UK ministers may bring in licences to control the sale of laser pens following increased attacks on pilots.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has issued a call for evidence into the regulation of laser pointers amid concerns they could cause a serious accident.

In 2016, there were 1,258 incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft recorded by the Civil Aviation Authority. In future, those who deliberately target aircraft with lasers could face a jail sentence or hefty fine. Currently, shining lasers at planes has a penalty of up to £2,500.

Last year, an air ambulance helicopter pilot was temporarily blinded. Great North Air Ambulance Service pilot Keith Armatage told the Sunderland Echo: “Lasers can blind – temporarily and permanently. If the pilot is blinded, the helicopter crashes.”

There have been more than 150 instances of eye injuries connected with laser pointers since 2013, with most involving children.

Professor John O’Hagan, of Public Health England, said he was in favour of a consultation to minimise the health risks of “cheap novelty products bought innocently on holiday [which] can put consumers, and particularly children, at risk of eye injuries”.

Online retailers such as Amazon are working with the Government to make sure that unsafe laser pointers are withdrawn from sale.

Margot James, the Business Minister said: “Used irresponsibly or maliciously, these products can and do wreak havoc and harm others, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

“That’s why we want to hear from business groups, retailers and consumers about the best way to protect the public from this kind of dangerous behaviour and improve safety.”

BEIS will accept evidence for eight weeks as part of its public consultation process, which closes on Friday 6 October.

In the Midwestern US state of Michigan, a law has recently been passed making it illegal to point a laser at planes and trains. Those who break the law face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $10,000 (£7,600).

The power of a laser pointer is restricted in most countries to under 5mW, which is not believed to cause serious damage to a person’s eyes. There have been cases of high-powered laser pointers purchased online. According to a Forbes report, class three lasers, capable of burning through paper and bursting balloons, have been sold over the internet.

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