Laser Laws (UK) - 20th December 2017

For anyone in the UK, especially new members. This guide can be important for those who are not in the UK too, but the laws are only based on British legislation. The government has imposed new laws regarding the use of lasers that put simply protect anything that needs driver/pilot attention. Even hovercraft’s are included. Happily rather than just banning laser pointers altogether they have decided to make the penalties tougher on those who misuse them.

A basic breakdown of UK laws at present (20th December 2017)

It is illegal to target:

  • Planes
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Trams
  • Boats
  • Hovercraft
  • General Vehicles (Cars, Vans and Lorries etc) - although not directly mentioned. But can be inferred by the following statements.

The government is determined to protect pilots, captains, drivers and their passengers and take action against those who threaten their safety.

intention [to] endanger […] a vehicle, aircraft or vessel

Also very important to note. There is now no longer a requirement to prove your intention.

The bill will make it easier to prosecute offenders by removing the need to prove an intention to endanger a vehicle.

Alongside their existing powers of arrest and the ability to search a person once arrested, officers will no longer need to establish proof of intention endanger to a vehicle, aircraft or vessel, making it easier to prosecute swiftly. It will be an offence to shine or direct a laser towards a vehicle if it dazzles or distracts the operator, if done deliberately or if reasonable precautions to avoid doing so are not taken.

This means that even if your action was accidental, you can still get cautioned for not providing reasonable precautions to avoid exposure.

As for general ownership, as far as it seems. It hasn’t been modified.
Laser pointers are classified as anything Class 2 (<1mW) and can be used for their intended function.
Anything over 1mW has the status of ‘not recommended’

[…]it is recommended that a laser pointer should be no greater than a Class 2 laser product.

So not illegal to own a >1mW portable but should not be used as a pointer. There is a slight gap in the criteria allowing <5mW to be used for general pointing based on this statement.

Devices intended for use by consumers should not be Class 3B or Class 4 laser products.

Whilst Class 3R is mentioned, it isn’t referenced on whether or not they can be used as pointers. So the cut of can be safely assumed as >5mW (Class 3B).

As for purchase nationally and internationally of Class 3B and 4 lasers.

There is no law in place restricting purchase or import of >5mW lasers as of yet. But the restriction of >5mW’s is a bit of a grey area in the UK. It is advised in retail not to sell >5mW’s lasers including products that incorporate them to the general public.

PHE [(Public Health England)] advises that the sale of laser products to the general public for use as laser pointers should be restricted to Class 1 or Class 2 devices which should be classified in accordance with the requirements of the current British Standard

The key word being ‘advises’. But there are powers available to restrict them through the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 legislation, which allows standards organisations to remove Class 3B’s and 4’s from the national market and could also affect international imports.

Trading Standards Authorities may use their existing powers under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 to remove laser products intended for consumers of Class 3B and Class 4 (as defined in the British Standard) from the general market. However, it is recognised that consumers also purchase products direct via the Internet and while on overseas holidays, which is difficult to control.

The ‘difficult to control’ is quite significant as it shows that they are trying to eradicate some of the imports into the UK. So despite it not technically being illegal through direct laws, the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 legislation can make certain products ‘illegal’ through being ‘unsafe’ for the general consumer. As laser pointers are not labelled as components, then it they have to classed as a consumer product meaning they have to comply with whatever regulations are in force.

Now onto to ownership and use.

There again is no law on the ownership and use of portable or mains powered Class 3B and 4’s. But there is general statement for each of the two classes.

Class 3B lasers are not suitable for general use by consumers.
Ideally this would imply that there suitability isn’t for hobbyist use.

Class 4 lasers are not suitable for use by consumers.
This implies that Class 4’s are not suitable for any applications for a general consumer except for businesses and institutions.

But suitability isn’t law or legislation, so should only be taken as guidance.

Now a important one, outdoor use.

This unfortunately doesn’t have a clear black and white answer. The ownership and use advice applies the same but with a couple more complications. Whilst currently the bid to make lasers classified as offensive weapons has failed, some police officers can still arrest and/or confiscate the device under their discretion if they believe it is justified. This obviously is based heavily on your actions. If you are caught doing anything stupid with the laser then you can easily find yourself laserless. If you are caught pointing even <5mW lasers at humans, animals or any of those vehicles listed above then you could be in a lot of trouble. If you are using lasers to simply just annoy the public then you also face problems through ‘Breach of the peace’.

My general advice is not to go carrying your pointer/portables around with you outdoors and start pointing them around the street or sky. If you have to transport a portable from one location to another, then remove the batteries and place them in a separate location. This lessens the ‘intent to misuse’ judgement. Remember, under the new law accidental exposure to a vehicle whether ground, air or sea based just isn’t an excuse anymore. If you start wildly waving a >5mW around the sky, then you are not in proper control. Therefore you have not made ‘reasonable precautions to avoid’ unnecessary exposure.

So what are the new penalties for misuse of laser devices?

  1. Up to 5 years imprisonment
  2. Unlimited fine - used to be capped at £2500.

Fines could be issued in isolation or alongside a prison sentence.

So thinking about buying a laser to commit any of these offences? Simple answer. Don’t