LANSING (WWJ) – There are now some serious consequences under Michigan law for people who point lasers at planes.
A new law, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Barrett, went into an effect Monday setting a five-year felony sentencing guideline and up to a $10,000 fine for shining “a beam of directed energy,” such as a laser, at or in the path of an aircraft or train.
It already is a federal crime to shine a laser at an aircraft, but state authorities wanted more freedom to investigate and prosecute a rising number of incidents instead of leaving it to federal authorities.
Barrett’s legislation, along with a partner bill by state Rep. Laura Cox which criminalized the act, was approved by Gov. Rick Snyder on May 8 and started the 90-day countdown before going into effect.
“There’s nothing I can think of that is more dangerous than blinding anyone at the controls of an aircraft of train, even if for a few seconds,” said Barrett, who is a helicopter pilot in the Michigan National Guard. “It may be difficult to understand from the ground, but simply pointing a laser could lead to a catastrophe and we cannot let this kind of behavior continue for the safety of everyone travelling in Michigan.”
During late February testimony before the House Law and Justice Committee, Barrett explained that powerful laser pointers were available for under $50 online while disclosing the Federal Aviation Administration reported over 3,800 incidents of people aiming laser pointers at aircraft in 2014 alone.
In addition, Michigan State Police and Oakland County Sheriff’s Office aircrafts, as well as passenger jets flying into Detroit Metropolitan Airport, reported multiple incidents of being hit by ground-based lasers in February 2017.
In 2016, an MSP tactical flight officer ended up in the hospital after someone on the ground shined a laser in his eyes. Police said he suffered temporary blindness, headaches and spotty vision.
“The reports of aircraft being struck by these directed energy devices is only increasing, as is the possibility of a catastrophic accident affecting passengers and people on the ground,” said Barrett, of Potterville, in a media release. “This law gives our law enforcement partners across the state an added tool to deter this reckless behavior and help improve public safety.”
The legislation also includes prohibition of items that transmit focused electromagnetic radiation and sound disruptors directed at either mode of transportation.