Congressman Jim Himes, who represents most of Shelton, will introduce 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 would help ensure riders are not misled by unapproved hats that pose as helmets but do not actually protect from head injuries, according to Himes.
The bill is 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.
Role of proper protective gear
“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,” Himes said.
He said his proposal is intended “to help prevent tragedies like Christen’s from ever happening again.”
Federal commission to establish standards
The bill directs the U.S. 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 nonprofit developer of safety standards used in U.S. law.
The proposed legislation 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 unapproved hats as approved helmets.
Christen’s mom urges passage
Kemi O’Donnell, Christen’s mother, is supportive of the legislative effort.
“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,” Kemi O’Donnell said.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Kemi O’Donnell said with increasing awareness and attention on the impact of head injuries, “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.”
Horseback riding and TBI
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 (frequently known by the acronym “TBIs”), which is the largest percentage of any recreational sport.
More than 100 deaths per year are estimated to result from equestrian related activities, with head injuries accounting for 60% of these deaths.
Properly fitted ASTM-certified helmets can reduce head injury-related deaths by 70% to 80%, according to a release from Himes’ office, and U.S. Pony Clubs lowered head injury rates by 29% through mandatory helmet use.
Many support passage of bill
The release stated that the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Act 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.
Shelton is in two congressional districts
The city of Shelton is divided between two congressional districts.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes lives in Greenwich and was first elected to Congress in 2008. He represents the Fourth District, which includes most of Fairfield County.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro lives in New Haven and was first elected to Congress in 1990. Also a Democrat, DeLauro represents the Third District, which is centered in New Haven County.