Fremont Argus My Word: Traffic tickets — to cure paralysis?

By Don C. Reed
Guest commentary

Posted: 03/23/2011 04:00:00 PM PDT

Updated: 03/24/2011 10:31:31 AM PDT

ASSEMBLY BILL 190, introduced by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would tack a $3 fine onto every reckless driving ticket in California — the money to go into the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

Although small ($1.5 million a year), the Roman Reed Act has been great for California. Even judged by financial terms alone it was profitable. Over 10 years, its investment of $14.6 million in research dollars attracted an additional $63.8 million to California from the National Institutes of Health and other outside sources: New money and jobs.

We have had tremendous successes, from the famous paralyzed rats that walked again (featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes”) to 175 published scientific papers, to new methods of rehabilitative exercise, as well as efforts to ease bone loss and chronic pain, restore bowel and bladder control, and much more.

Times being what they are, legislators last year reluctantly removed the small amount of public funding ($1.5 million a year) it took to run “Roman’s Law.”

Privately, legislators in both parties told us to keep fighting, find a way to keep the program alive. They know what a cure could mean to California’s 500,000 paralyzed residents. Financial costs alone are staggering: A spinal cord injury means medical bills around $775,000 in the first year alone. Since few people have that kind of money, they turn to the government for help through Medi-Cal and Medicare.

Beloved by both Republican and Democratic legislators, “Roman’s Law” was twice renewed by near-unanimous votes of the Assembly and Senate.

Don’t let the program die, the legislators said.

So, we found a way. It wasn’t original, but we borrowed from the examples of seven states — Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and South Carolina — all of whom fund spinal cord injury research with traffic violations.

We are asking only $3, and nothing from safe drivers at all.

A vote of epic proportions will be taken April 5 at the Public Safety Committee in Sacramento. A yes vote means the dreams of millions of paralyzed Americans have a chance to come true in our lifetime. A no vote may delay cure for generations.

The vote will be difficult. Some in the committee have expressed concern about funding new laws by fines, which is a legitimate concern.

But reckless driving causes paralysis; roughly 46 percent of all spinal cord injuries are caused by car crashes.

Polluters are charged fines to clean up toxic wastes they leave; tobacco corporations must pay to make up for damage done. Why should reckless drivers not pay just a little bit — to fix a problem that they cause?

Fremont resident Don C. Reed is the citizen-sponsor of the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. He and his son Roman Reed, paralyzed in a 1994 college football accident and who was the inspiration for the California law, are dedicated to the cure of paralysis and other forms of chronic disease and disability.

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