Lasers are dangerous, can get you in hot water

I was watching a soccer game and noticed that someone in the stands was directing a laser light at the players' faces. How dangerous is this? Is it illegal?

— Don J., Medford

A laser light beam can be dangerous and damage a person's vision, if the laser is particularly powerful or the person stares at the beam for more than a second or two. The danger comes because the laser light is concentrated into a narrow beam, which can increase the light's power density, and it can be further focused by the action of the eye.

In the United States, lasers of 5 milliwatts power or less are allowed, and there are few if any reports of injuries caused by the low-powered lasers.

Nevertheless, according to laserpointersafety.com (yes, there is such a site — who knew?) the power density from a 1 milliwatt laser, focused to a point, is brighter than the equivalent area of the sun's surface. The website goes on to say, "This can cause a detectable change (injury) to the retina, if the laser stays in one spot for a few seconds. This is why in some countries such as the U.K., laser pointers are limited to 1 milliwatt or less."

It is illegal to point a laser at an aircraft. The light from even a low-powered laser can reach thousands of feet into the night sky, with the beam broadening as it ascends. The light can distract pilots or even temporarily "flash-blind" them if the beam strikes a cockpit windshield at the right angle. There are thousands of reports every year of laser lights being pointed at aircraft.

Pointing a laser light at someone's face can get you in trouble with the law, Don, particularly if that someone is a police officer. For some reason, it is illegal in many places in the country, including Oregon (and by Medford municipal law), to point a laser light beam at a police officer, but not necessarily illegal to point it at someone else.

There have been cases of people being charged for pointing at nonofficers, including a St. Louis, Mo., teenager who was charged with disorderly conduct and sentenced to probation and a $500 fine after an August 2012 incident in which he pointed a laser light at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball player and manager.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.


Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.
COUPON OF THE WEEK