A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
Concerned about laser pointers? Want them used safely?
- what makes lasers hazardous to aviation
- why you should never aim laser pointers at aircraft
- basic principles of laser hazards
- an online laser hazard distance calculator
- laser pointer incidents and news
- the latest statistics on aircraft incidents, and news items with statistics
- a laser pointer FAQ, and fast facts for media
- a video from the FAA and Air Force
- how to report a laser incident
- laser safety glasses for pilots
- how to safely simulate a laser strike
New: U.K. government asks for ways to crack down on laser misuse; deadline for comments is October 6
The government is concerned both with hazards from aiming laser pointers at pilots, drivers and train operators, and the potential for retinal damage among consumers when high-powered lasers are aimed into eyes.
They opened a consultation asking for suggestions for eight weeks, starting August 12 and closing at 11:45 pm on October 6 2017. A 23-page Call For Evidence PDF document is posted at the open consultation webpage. It includes background information on laser hazards and misuse.
There are 19 specific questions asked by the government, plus it is possible to respond with free-form text. Persons can respond via an online survey, by postal mail, or by sending an email.
From the UK government press release “Government crackdown on misuse of laser pointers”, the open consultation “Laser pointers: Call for evidence” webpage, and the call for evidence online survey webpage.
2017 U.S. laser illumination reports projected to be less than 2015 and 2016
Based on historical data from 2007 through 2016, LaserPointerSafety.com projects that there will be around 7,200 reported incidents in 2017. This compares with 7,442 reports in all of 2016, and 7,703 reports in all of 2015.
Additional detail, plus two data charts, is in a story recently posted to the News/Statistics page.
Update October 2016: FDA wants to allow only sales of red laser pointers
Laser/aircraft illumination incidents — numbers and stats
Informative charts and videos
A helicopter being deliberately targeted by a laser pointer. The light is a distraction and, if bright enough, can cause temporary flashblindness. A video of the incident is here.
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.
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.
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 January 2017, this has had over 5.6 million views on YouTube.
Learn from his mistake — don’t aim lasers at aircraft
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.
See how far lasers can be a hazard
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.
Why laser beams are less hazardous at greater distances
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 4-7 mm wide, depending on lighting conditions. If a beam is, say, 150 mm across, then clearly most of the beam power does not go through the pupil.
That’s why a laser beam that can pop balloons or light cigarettes up close, could be eye safe tens or hundreds of feet away.
If the example laser pointer had an output power of 5 milliwatts, the beam would be considered eye safe for momentary exposure (blink or turn away within 1/4 second) after about 50 feet. At 500 feet, even deliberate staring into the beam would not cause an injury.
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
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.