Bill named after Darien girl requires equestrian helmets to meet safety standards


WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) announced today legislation to require all equestrian helmets manufactured and sold in the United States to meet certain safety standards. The Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Act – named after a 12-year-old Darien girl who died after being thrown from her horse wearing a hard hat that looked like a helmet but did not in fact meet proper safety standards – will help ensure riders are not misled by unapproved hats that pose as helmets but do not actually protect from head injuries.


“As a parent of two young girls, nothing would cause me greater pain than seeing my daughter hurt or worse from an injury that could have been prevented with proper protective gear,” said Himes. “Unfortunately, many horse riders unknowingly purchase ineffective head gear for themselves or their children thinking it is a real helmet.  I am pleased to introduce this bill to help prevent tragedies like Christen’s from ever happening again.”


The bill directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to establish safety standards for equestrian helmets based on those developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a leading non-profit developer of safety standards used in U.S. law. It requires all helmets manufactured and sold in the United States to meet the ASTM safety standards until the CPSC standards are finalized and imposes fines on companies who try to pass off their unapproved hats as approved helmets.


“Since Christen’s death, I have been tirelessly working on passing the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Act to stop the sale and production of unapproved equestrian helmets in the United States,” said Kemi O’Donnell, Christen’s mother. “I had no idea back then that the helmet she wore that day was simply a piece of apparel and offered no protection against any kind of head injury.  I could not believe that it was legal in the United States to sell something that looked exactly like a helmet but was simply a hat. With the rapidly increasing awareness and attention on head injuries today, I believe there is no better time than now to finally pass Christen’s Bill.  If passed, the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Act would ensure that no consumer ever again would mistakenly purchase a hat instead of a helmet.”


Brain injuries are a major public health concern, with two million head injuries occurring in the United States every year. Horseback riding causes 11.7% of sports-related traumatic brain injuries, which is the largest percentage of any recreational sport. Over 100 deaths per year are estimated to result from equestrian related activities, with head injuries accounting for three of every five of these deaths. Properly fitted ASTM-certified helmets can reduce head injury-related deaths by 70 to 80 percent; the U.S. Pony Clubs lowered head injury rates by 29 percent through mandatory helmet use.


The bill is supported by the Equestrian Medical Safety Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing horseback riding injuries; the U.S. Pony Clubs; Riders 4 Helmets; Charles Owen, a leading manufacturer of certified equestrian helmets; the Brain Trauma Foundation; Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to preventing childhood injuries; and Chronicle of the Horse, a weekly equestrian magazine.


By Alex

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