US bill seeks minimum safety standards for riding helmets

All riding helmets sold in the United States will be required to meet minimum safety standards if a federal bill introduced by a Connecticut lawmaker passes Congress.

Congressman Jim Himes has introduced the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Act – a bill named after a 12-year-old Darien girl who died in 1998 after being thrown from her horse while wearing a hard hat that looked like a helmet but did not meet proper safety standards.

Christen O’Donnell
Christen O’Donnell

Himes says the legislation 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,” Himes said.

“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 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 US law.

It requires all helmets made and sold in the US to meet the ASTM safety standards until the commission’s standards are finalized.

The bill would impose fines on companies that tried to pass off their unapproved hats as approved helmets.

Jim Himes
Jim Himes

Kemi O’Donnell, Christen’s mother, said she had been working tirelessly since her daughter’s death on the bill in her determination to stop the sale and production of unapproved equestrian helmets in the US.

“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 US annually.

Horseback riding causes 11.7 percent 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 US Pony Clubs lowered head injury rates by 29 percent through mandatory helmet use.

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