Laser pen offenders face 5 years in jail under new law

Media caption,
In 2016 a laser pen forced a Virgin Atlantic flight to turn back

People convicted of shining a laser at the operator of any vehicle could face five years in prison.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has put forward tough new penalties for the offence, including unlimited fines.

Shining a laser into the eyes of driver, sailor or pilot could lead to "catastrophic incidents", according to police.

Under current legislation the maximum penalty for using lasers against a pilot is £2,500.

Only aircraft are covered by existing legislation but The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill, published on Wednesday, expands the types of transport which are covered to include trains, buses, boats and hovercraft.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many pilots have complained of laser interference at night

Prosecutors will no longer need to prove intent, just that a laser was used.

It will be an offence to dazzle or distract the operator of a vehicle either deliberately or if reasonable precautions to avoid doing so are not taken.

In February 2016, a New York-bound plane was forced to turn back to London Heathrow Airport when a a laser beam hit the cockpit after take off, causing a "medical issue" for one of the pilots.

Since 2011 there has been about 1,500 laser-related incidents involving aircraft each year.

Some 1,258 were reported in 2016, with attacks at Heathrow alone rising by a quarter year-on-year to 151.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) lead for lasers, Cdr Simon Bray, said shining a laser at an aircraft or another moving vehicle is "deeply irresponsible and dangerous".

"Laser attacks are a crime and serious consequences will follow from committing this offence."