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UK: New UK law provides stronger penalties, easier prosecution for aiming a laser at a vehicle

On May 10 2018, the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act gained Royal Assent. The new law makes it an an offense to shine or direct a laser beam towards a vehicle which dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract the person with control of the vehicle. The law applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The penalties for violations is up to five years imprisonment and an unlimited fine; these penalties take effect starting July 10 2018.

The law applies to laser beams aimed at aircraft, motor vehicles, trains, ships, hovercraft and other vehicles. A vehicle does not have to be moving at the time of offense; if the engine or motor is running then the law applies. Another provision makes it an offense to shine or direct a laser beam towards an air traffic facility, or a person providing air traffic services, under the condition where the beam dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract a person providing air traffic services.

The offense is a strict liability offense, meaning that prosecutors do not need to prove that the person shining the laser intended to endanger the vehicle or air traffic facility/controller. There are two defenses allowed: 1) the person had a reasonable excuse for shining the laser beam, or 2) the person did not intend to shine a laser at the vehicle/ATF/controller and exercised all due diligence to avoid doing so.

According to The Register, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) “has led the charge for stricter laws on laser abuse for many years.”

COMPARING U.S. AND U.K.

Since the U.K. peak of 2,278 incidents in 2011 (U.K. home + overseas), the number of illuminations has dropped 46% to 1,232 in 2017. It is unknown what factors may have caused the drop.

By comparison, the U.S. rate of reported illuminations rose 88% over the same period, from 3,591 incidents in 2011 to 6,753 in 2017. Again, it is unknown what caused the rise, and especially the almost-doubling from 3,894 in 2014 to 7,703 in 2015.

UK laser incidents 2009-2017 600w

From The Register, UK government legislation website, December 20 2017 UK Department of Transport press release, CAA laser incidents data, and LaserPointerSafety.com statistics. Previous LaserPointerSafety.com reporting on the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act is here.