Air bag vest
The air bag vest is a personal safety device worn by some motorcyclists that has found greatest use among equestrian competitors. The device is worn over a standard padded vest and is automatically inflated by gas released from a carbon dioxide canister when a tether attached to the horse's saddle is extended during a fall.
Description and availability
The device weighs approximately two pounds and is worn over a standard protective high density foam vest. Connected by a cord to the horse's saddle, a carbon dioxide canister is punctured when the cord is extended during a fall, inflating the vest in 100 to 250 milliseconds. Unlike car air bags, the air bag vests can be repacked and reloaded for reuse with a new CO2 cartridge. Companies that manufacture the vests created them for motorcyclists as early as 1999. Point Two Air Jackets, a British manufacturer, began selling the device for horse riders starting in 2009 and the Japanese company Hit Air has a similar device, which sell for about $400 to $700 depending on the model. As of 2010, Point Two estimated that 6,000 eventing riders wore its vests, while Hit Air estimated that 10,000 of its vests were being used. The United States Team at the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010 planned to provide riders with air bag vests.
Studies conducted by the British Transport Research Laboratory showed that the vests improved protection by 69% when worn by riders in conjunction with a standard protective vest and cut the risk of rib fractures and damage to internal organs by 20%. Studies performed by the TRL for Point Two showed a reduction exceeding 55% in the chest compression experienced while wearing the vest compared to unprotected falls, and that chest compression was cut in half of the maximum limit set by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for chest compression in automobile crashes. At a competition in France held in September 2009, rider Karim Florent Laghouag was able to walk away from a fall in which his horse somersaulted over a fence with his only injury a dislocated elbow. Similar types of rotational falls had resulted in the death of 13 riders in the four-year span through 2010. In 2010, British rider Oliver Townend described the vest as "the biggest step forward in the safety of our sport, ever". Townend had his horse fall on top of him while participating in the Rolex Kentucky Three Day in Lexington, Kentucky, and despite a broken sternum and four cracked ribs, credited the vest with allowing him to leave the hospital after only one day, saying that without the vest he "would be in a box or in America for a month".
Italian motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi and other leading competitors have worn a version of the vest, but the technology is still under development given the higher speeds. Versions of the device are also being developed for all-terrain vehicle and mountain bike riders.
- Thomas, Katie. "Added Safety in the Saddle", The New York Times, August 23, 2010. Accessed August 25, 2010.
- "TRL initial observations of the Point Two Children's Air Jacket", Point Two. Accessed August 24, 2010.