New laws introducing tough penalties for people who target aircraft, road vehicles and boats with lasers have received Royal Assent today (0 May 2018).
The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act will also make it an offence to point a laser at air traffic controllers.
Under the new law, it is a crime to shine or direct a laser beam that dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, air traffic controllers, pilots, captains of boats and drivers of road vehicles.
As well as widening the list to include air traffic facilities, offenders face much tougher penalties of up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
The police have also been given extra powers to catch those who misuse lasers and prosecution has been made easier by removing the need to prove there was an intention to endanger a vehicle.
Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg said:
We are taking action to provide greater protection against irresponsible laser use.
Lasers can have very serious, potentially fatal consequences and offenders should face tough penalties for endangering the lives of others.
We also hope that these new measures will act as a deterrent against the misuse of lasers.
Lasers have become a growing concern, particularly near airports where they can dazzle and distract both pilots and air traffic controllers.
In 2017, UK airports reported 989 laser incidents to the Civil Aviation Authority. The most affected airport was Heathrow with 107 incidents, followed by Gatwick (70), Manchester (63) and Birmingham (59).
By removing the need for police officers to establish proof of intention to endanger a vehicle, aircraft, vessel, or air traffic control, the new law makes prosecutions easier and much more swift.
The legislation makes it a punishable offence if the act of shining or directly a laser beam is done deliberately or without reasonable precautions being taken to avoid doing so.
Brian Strutton, General Secretary, British Airline Pilots’ Association said:
Pilots have been pushing for tougher punishments and greater police powers around lasers for many years.
We are very pleased the government has taken up this important issue and has now passed this new legislation which we hope will have a meaningful effect on the number of laser attacks on aircraft and other modes of transport.
Shining a laser at an aircraft is extremely dangerous and has the potential to cause a crash that could be fatal to not only those on board, but people on the ground too.
Members of the public should know that by shining a laser at an aircraft, they now face the serious prospect of jail time.