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US: Proposed Maryland law to increase penalties for shining lasers at aircraft

Proposed Maryland House Bill 130, the “Laser Safety Act”, would make it a misdemeanor to “knowingly and willfully cause or attempt to cause bodily injury by shining, pointing, or focusing the beam of a laser pointer on an individual operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft.” The penalty is a maximum 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

Co-sponsor Sam Arora said “We need this law … we’re talking about potential death.” The Maryland State Police testified in support of the bill at a February 7 2012 hearing that “the results [of a laser incident] could be deadly.” A WJZ TV news report said “Blinding a pilot at night is a good way to kill people.”

The bill only applies to laser pointers, defined under Maryland law (Title 3, Subtitle 8, Section 3-806) as any device that emits visible laser light. There are exemptions for lasers used for flight testing for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

The bill was introduced January 23 2012, and had its first reading on February 7. A companion Maryland Senate bill is expected to be introduced soon.

From Essex-Middle River Patch, CBS Baltimore WJZ, and the Maryland legislative information website. The full text of the bill is here; the Maryland definition of laser pointer is here.

Editorial note from LaserPointerSafety.com: A Maryland state police paramedic gave an erroneous demonstration to reporters purporting to show how a laser can be a hazard to aircraft. In a hangar, he aimed a red laser pointer at a helicopter windscreen only a few yards away. The resulting (grossly inaccurate) video shows a tiny red dot on the windscreen and in the aircraft. This is NOT what happens in a laser-aircraft incident. Instead, the light would be many inches across, even at low, helicopter-hovering altitudes of many hundreds of feet. The windscreen would further spread the light so that there would be a wide area of glare. In other words, the hazard is not a pinpoint that can go into one’s pupil, but a large “blob” of light that can cause temporary flashblindness, glare or distraction. This is an example of how laser hazards close up (within a few feet or yards) are very different from laser hazards to aircraft hundreds or thousands of feet away.