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Laser pointers should never be used carelessly or maliciously

Photo of Christopher Seleski

The ready availability and many potential uses of laser pointers in New York City make them a popular purchase, and anyone on the streets may have one. Some people may not realize that these beams of light are potentially dangerous.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates laser products, including those available commercially and those intended for professional use only. Originally an acronym, a laser is Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The radiation produced by a laser product is not harmful. However, the beam of light has the potential to cause significant damage when misused.

When a laser beam hits an eye’s retina, it can cause a blind spot similar to that which a person experiences by looking at the sun. Perhaps surprisingly, the laser beam can be more permanently damaging than the burn the retina may sustain from the sun.

If the laser beam hits a person’s eye from a great distance, the light is not dissipated or spread. Instead, it remains in a tight line that is just as dangerous from far away. This is one reason people are warned never to shine a laser at an aircraft.

Pointing a laser beam at a person who is driving can have serious results, as well. According to NBC News, an MTA bus driver was recently temporarily blinded while behind the wheel when a person on the sidewalk shined a laser directly at his eyes. Fortunately, in this case, the driver managed to prevent what could have been a devastating bus accident, stopping the vehicle safely, and he did not sustain permanent damage.


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