Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Blog: When is an accidental death acceptable?

by Mark Cramer

We can ask this question about race horses and we can ask it about human beings. Perhaps we can learn something by comparing our attitude to accidental deaths on the race track with how we accept deaths on the road. If you bear with me, you will see in the conclusion why this comparison can be made.

According to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, there were 1.92 thoroughbred deaths per 1,000 starts between November 2008 and December 2011. Separated by surface, there were 2.07 deaths on dirt, 1.28 deaths on synthetic and 1.67 deaths on grass. Filtered by tracks, some tracks do better than others. Keeneland’s website states that their track has half the number of deaths per thousand in the “all surface” category. Dirt, of course, is not applicable. Keeneland had 0.88 deaths on synthetic and 1.17 on turf, per thousand starts.

Based on these or other similar stats, we can make choices about which surfaces are more acceptable to race horses on.

I have not been able to find stats on horse deaths which compare horses racing on pain-killing medication versus horses without pain killers, but the death rate appears to be significantly higher in countries where horses are allowed to race with pain killers. If this proves true, we could choose to ban race-day pain killers.

The point is that we have information available that could help us make choices that would significantly reduce the percentage of race-day thoroughbred deaths.

But similarly, we could provide choices to human beings that would reduce on-the-road deaths.

For example, according to a Dartmouth study, there are 11.7 deaths per billion passenger miles by car while there are 0.88 deaths per billion passenger miles on Amtrak. The difference is significant. But just as horses cannot choose the surface they race on, in most regions of North America, human beings cannot choose the surface they travel on, because there is no train service.

Lest you doubt the above Dartmouth stat, here’s another more convincing one. The French high-speed train (the TGV) has been in operation since 1981 and there has not been a single travel fatality. Not one death by train! We could choose to have high speed trains in places like Texas and Florida, but we choose not to offer a travel alternative.

Human travelers in places without trains are like thoroughbred runners: they have no choice of surface.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), train commuters walked an average of 30% more steps per workday than car commuters. The CDC recommends a daily physical activity standard of 10,000 steps; 40.4% of train commuters walked at least 10,000 steps while only 14.8% of car commuters walked that much. Train commuters end up with a higher life expectancy than car commuters.

In conclusion, for both human beings and race horses, we choose not to reduce death rates, even though we could do so. This suggests that our choice to allow race horses to die needlessly is not really a question of our attitude about animals but of our attitude about life itself.

Mark Cramer is the author of the crime novel Tropical Downs and the bicycle racing chronical Handicapping on the Road. He lives in Paris.

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