Sometimes, it’s difficult to believe just how stupid or malign some people can be.
Over the last 10 years, there have been more than 14,000 reported incidents of someone directing a laser light at aircraft pilots in the UK. The only good news is that the number of aircraft incidents reported last year (989) to the Civil Aviation Authority was nearly 50% lower than the peak number in 2011.
Research shows that most attacks took place during take-off and landing, or against hovering police helicopters, and are carried out using cheap, high-powered handheld devices that are readily available on the internet. The attacks can distract pilots and flight crew, obscure instruments and dials, and cause short-lived ‘flash’ blindness or even permanent eye damage. The potential for catastrophic accidents with significant loss of life, as well as life-changing effects on individuals are obvious.
And the problems are not just in the skies. There are too many reports of laser lights being pointed at the drivers of trains and of vehicles on our roads.
Although It has been clear for some time that the police do not have the powers to effectively tackle and investigate the inappropriate use of laser devices, there have been a number of false starts for legislative change. However, last December, the government published a Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill.
As you might imagine, there are some tricky lines to be drawn between civil liberties and criminal action, between activities which may be described as ‘not unreasonable’ and behaviours which are reckless or malign. Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong, but defining that clearly in law is not always easy. Unsurprisingly, there have been some robust debates on where those lines are to be drawn and on the definitions of various words and phrases such as actions ‘likely to dazzle or distract’.
Following amendments in the House of Lords, the Bill It makes it clear that the offence can be committed against any ‘vehicle’, which “would apply to all forms of vehicles, including aircraft, road vehicles, trains, trams, ships, hovercrafts, invalid carriages, and cycles”…and even horse-drawn vehicles.
If found guilty, on summary conviction, you can be sent to prison for up to a year. If found guilty in the Crown Court, you could be sent down for up to five years. The Act comes into effect on July 10th.
Let’s hope that we see much less stupidity and malign behaviour in the future.