A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
The accident occurred at about 5:30 am on October 25 2016. Miranda Senters, 18, was driving her new car, bought one week prior, when the driver in front of her aimed a green laser beam over his shoulder towards her. Senters told KGW News “I just kept going back and forth a little bit, trying to keep out of the light.” The laser driver then went behind Senters’ car and aimed into the rear-view mirror: “…he’s shining it from the back of me into my eyes and I couldn’t see.”
Senters tried to get away but the other driver weaved in and out of lanes to keep up with her. While trying to avoid the light, Senters swerved to the shoulder and spun out. The other car crashed into her. A third driver hit a barrier when trying to avoid the stopped vehicles.
The laser car, an older Honda Civic, left the scene. In an Instagram post, state police asked the public to help them find the Civic.
State police photo showing Senters’ car with driver side damage, at the scene on Interstate 5.
Senters later told KPTV “He had a little laser and was trying to get it through my front window. I went blind because a green laser light — like my eyes still hurt from that, I can still see it…. I don’t understand how it’s a joke. It could have killed me.”
From KGW and KPTV. Thank you to George Palikaras for bringing this to our attention.
Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: This is the first well-documented case we’re aware of where a laser pointer aimed at a driver directly caused a crash. There was a fatal crash in 1998 which was partially blamed on a laser pointer, and an indirect reference to a three-car accident in 1999. There have also been a number of near-accidents and other car-related laser incidents which are listed here.
The 44-year-old driver stared into the laser several times, as he tried to identify the person holding the laser. He suffered blurred vision in his right eye immediately after the exposure, but waited 6 months before having his first complete eye exam.
The exam showed “spot-like retinal pigment epithelium disturbances temporal to the fovea of the right eye, with no abnormalities in his left eye.” The authors stated that “The subjective complaints and objective ophthalmological findings of this patient were consistent and strongly suggested that the repetitive exposure of the eye to the reflected laser spot 6 months previously had caused subtle but detectable injury to the macula.”
The authors concluded with two “Learning points”:
- “We suggest that no laser pointers of any class are made available to children, since they are unlikely to understand the risks of permanent retinal damage.”
- “For the safety of users and the general public, even low-energy handheld laser pointers should not be sold to children.”
The authors did not identify the location of the incident, but it may be Germany since three of the four authors’ institutions were in Germany. Additional analysis and commentary is below (click the “Read More…” link).
From Thanos S, Böhm MRR, Meyer zu Hörste M, et al. “Retinal damage induced by mirror-reflected light from a laser pointer” BMJ Case Reports. Retrieved online: 2015 Nov 05, doi:10.1136/bcr-2015- 210311.
Click to read more...
This map shows the ferries’ route. The map’s indicated positions of the ferries are from a later time and do NOT show their position during the laser incident.
At about 8:30 pm, the ferry M/V Tokitae (shown below) was approaching the Clinton (Wash.) Ferry Terminal. The captains were at wheelhouses on opposite ends of the 362-foot-long ferry. The one piloting the vessel was hit first, and suffered injuries.
According to Washington State Ferries Port Captain Jay Mooney, the man had “third-degree burns on his eyelid and his vision is still not quite back at 100 percent.” (A first-degree burn occurs only on the surface of the skin. A third-degree burn “extends to all layers of the skin,” according to the Wikipedia “Burn” article.)
The blue laser beam came from the slightly smaller ferry M/V Kitsap, which was traveling in the opposite direction.
A Kitsap deckhand had seen two men with the laser, and reported it to a Washington State Patrol trooper after arrival at the terminal in Mukilteo. One man told the officer that “it was a new toy and he was shining it at the water and didn’t mean to shine it at the vessel,” according to a WSP spokesperson. The trooper confiscated the laser pointer, shown here:
The spokesperson said “This is not a typical laser you’d see in a classroom or office setting.” She referenced the manufacturer’s packaging which says to use safety glasses, to not aim it at faces, and that it could light a match if held on target long enough.
A similar-looking laser sold by Lasers-Pointers.com is said to be 5000 mW (5 watts) and costs less than $200:
The two captains exposed to the laser light missed one day of work. The suspect who had the laser has not yet been charged, as of October 29 2015. Prosecutors are determining what charges would be appropriate.
UPDATED - November 9 2015: No arrests have yet been made and no charges have been filed, more than two weeks after a suspect was picked up. This is due in part to determining what jursidiction applied, since the laser incident took place on ferries in waters between different Washington state counties. Another difficulty was determining what charge to file. A KIRO radio story also noted the limitations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates lasers. While FDA attempts to block some high-powered lasers, imports can get through. And, “there aren't any penalties for buying or owning those illegally high-powered devices, nor are there requirements for training for non-medical, non-industrial devices.” From MyNorthwest.com
UPDATED - April 18 2015: 27-year-old Mark Raden was charged with assault in the third degree, for aiming at the ferry captains. In addition, he has a previous history of run-ins with law enforcement over laser misuse. Details are here.
An analysis of the laser’s power and capabilities is below (click on the “read more” link).
From KOMO News, Q13Fox, the Kitsap Sun and Wikipedia. Ferry drawings and route map from Washington State Department of Transportation website. Laser pointer info from Lasers-Pointers.com.
On July 7, Peterson made a Facebook post where he threatened to kill police, and referenced being shot by police. Three days later, West Jordan police officer Ian Adams was patrolling a shopping center and saw Peterson, who ran. During the chase, Peterson turned and drew an object that looked like a handgun. Adams shot Peterson twice, once in the legs and once in the buttocks.
The object was found to be a piece of bent metal with a taped-on laser pointer.
Click to read more...
Ordinance 4880 has an attached “Explanation to Amended Council Bill No. 99-61” which gives some reasons for the city’s restrictions on laser use and possession. One of the “local abuses” cited is the following:
- “Another offense includes a three-car collision, where a young man pointed a laser light into the car ahead of him and startled the driver, causing him to slam on his brakes and cause a pileup.”