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U.K. estimate of cost of lives lost in a laser accident

In an August 2017 open consultation document, the U.K. government gave their estimate of the cost of lives that might be lost in a hypothetical laser-caused accident. The information below is from the document; LaserPointerSafety.com has added some additional paragraph breaks, boldface, and bullets for clarity.

For transport, the most serious risk from the malicious use of laser pointers is an aviation, road, rail or maritime related accident. A single accident as a result of exposure to a laser beam could lead to an accident with significant loss of life and economic consequences. This risk increases as more powerful devices become available.

The Department for Transport has considered the typical costs of an air, road and rail accident based on the statistical value of a life in relation to a laser attack.

  • The cost of a low level accident involving a helicopter with 2 fatalities and 5 serious injuries is estimated at around £10m [USD $13 million]. A high level incident involving a Boeing 747-400 with 100% fatalities is estimated around £1.1bn [$1.43 billion]. This includes the statistical value of life, damage costs and the vehicle loss costs.

  • The cost of a road accident would range from around £6,000 [$7,800] for a low level accident to around £2m [$2.6 million] for a high level scenario.

  • For rail, using the statistical value of lives only, the cost for a low level accident is around £8,000 ($10,400) and increases to £1.7m [$2.2 million] for a high level accident.

In the case of aviation, the misuse of laser pointers is an increasing safety concern with the potential to endanger life. Shining the beam from a laser pointer at an aircraft and other modes of transport can dazzle and distract a person at the controls of a vehicle, impairing their ability to maintain control.

  • Dazzling a pilot will deny them effective vision – for example the ability to read flight instrument displays, see controls, or assess the flight path using visual cues. This problem is exacerbated where there is only one pilot; should they become blinded even temporarily they could easily lose control of the vehicle, which could have disastrous consequences.

  • Distracting a pilot is less of an immediate threat but nonetheless has safety implications; light will be reflected off the various instruments and displays and the pilot’s attention will be diverted from their primary task of flying an aircraft. This may jeopardise the pilot’s (or crew’s) ability to complete their tasks.