Written by attorney Peter Joseph Lamont

No NJ Ban on Laser Pointers but Watch Where you Point Them

Recent New Jersey legislation banning the sale of laser pointers with a wattage rating in excess of one-milliwatt, has been vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. Characterizing the legislation as "unnecessary", the governor pointed to the fact that the legislature had not provided any proof of illegal use of a laser pointer in NJ. As well, it was noted that criminal laws protecting the public from misuse of the pointers already exist and further; a ban on the sale would be tantamount to interference with legal commerce. Office supply stores sell the bulk of the pointers, and could conceivably see a drop in revenue should a sales ban be put into effect. The ubiquitous pointers, so frequently used at presentations, meetings, conventions and in the classroom as to become commonplace, have a dark side to their character. The public is well aware of the danger to eyes posed by the laser but less-known is the potential hazard to aircraft. Although the beam from a laser seemingly ends at some point when aimed at a night sky, this is an illusion. In reality, the light continues on, even though it is no longer returning to the eye. This has led some people to erroneously conclude that aiming the device at aircraft is harmless. The fact is, a beam with a width of one-twenty-fifth of an inch as it leaves the device, can be two to three feet in width upon arrival at the airplane. Should it hit the windshield of the cockpit, it can potentially cause the pilot to experience night-blindness, after-images and glare on the screen. All of which endanger passengers and crew flying with a distracted, worried and temporarily blind pilot. The beam does not have to make contact with the plane to be a hazard but only be in visual range to be a distraction to pilots. A distraction that could result in tragedy should the pilot be in the process of landing a jumbo jet with several hundred people on board. Incidents involving lasers and aircraft have led to arrests under federal legislation prohibiting the pointing of lasers at aircraft. In 2011, a Gloucester County, NJ man pled guilty to pointing a laser at a US Coast Guard helicopter and was fined $1000 and sentenced to 15 days of community service. The 21 year old man had pointed his green laser at a helicopter from Coast Guard Station Atlantic City while out on a training exercise off Ocean City. During that period of time, several cases of aircraft laser flashing were reported in the resort area. The problem continues to grow with the FAA reporting a record number of 2800 incidents in 2011 - double the number in 2010.

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