People who shine lasers at pilots or drivers of trains and buses will be jailed for up to five years, under “tough” new laws being unveiled today.
The courts will also be able to impose unlimited fines, to stamp out a practice which can have ‘fatal consequences” ministers say.
The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill will also make prosecutions easier, by removing the need to prove that someone shining a laser intended to put the driver of a vehicle at risk.
The move follows evidence of a big rise in the number of incidents of lasers being shone at aircraft in the UK, from 746 in 2009 to about 1,258 last year – or 24 every week.
Legislation was first proposed earlier this year, but appeared to have been dropped after it was left out of the Queen’s Speech, which will run until 2019.
Now the Department for Transport will say it is pressing ahead, although without setting a date for the introduction of the new penalties.
Baroness Sugg, the aviation minister, said: “Lasers can dazzle, distract or blind those in control of a vehicle, with serious and potentially even fatal consequences.
“The Government is determined to protect pilots, captains, drivers and their passengers and take action against those who threaten their safety.”
The Bill was welcomed by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), which called for an “effective and speedy implementation”.
“This is good news for transport safety. BALPA pilots and other transport workers have raised the growing threat of laser attacks for some time,” said Brian Strutton, its general secretary.
Only a handful of people have been prosecuted since shining a light at an aircraft became an offence in 2010.
Under current legislation, police have to prove a person endangered the aircraft – but the new law, extended to buses, trains and boats, will only require proof that the suspect shone the laser.
Civil Aviation Authority figures showed that laser attacks on aircraft using Heathrow Airport rose by a quarter last year, to 151.
There were also large numbers of attacks at Glasgow (83) Birmingham (73), Manchester (72), London City (62) and London Gatwick (55).
In November 2015, a British Airways pilot was left with significant damage to his eyesight after a “military strength” laser was shone into his plane while he was landing at Heathrow.
A laser pointer can cause eye injuries from up to 1,200ft away and can be bought in Britain with very few checks on the buyer, critics say.
At least 47 children had suffered permanent eye damage – including blindness – in the last four years, The Sunday Times found.