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'U' speaker decries highway safety policy

U OF M EAST BANK CAMPUS--A highway safety expert with a sense of humor? A General Motors engineer for 33 years who speaks with a hint of an Irish lilt? Try Leonard Evans. As a speaker and author, he touches the funny bone. Honest, even with a talk titled, "The Dramatic Failure of U.S. Traffic Safety Policy." He spoke to 160 people attending the winter luncheon in February for the university's Center for Transportation Studies (www.cts.umn.edu). For information about Evans, see www.ScienceServingSociety.com.

But, you had to be there to enjoy his good-natured, but serious-minded, jabs at U.S. government dogma that steered it toward reliance on air bags, and away from law enforcement to reduce crashes. Evans described how the United States fell from safest in traffic deaths per thousand vehicles in the 1950s to 17th internationally today. He described Ralph Nader's ironic contribution to the decline. "Why not aim to change people's behavior to prevent crashes, instead of how to avoid being hurt or killed by air bags," he wondered.

Evans said electronic monitoring of traffic can be introduced in a way the public will welcome it. "Traffic safety is a part of public health," he declared. Traffic law enforcement has "a wretched history," he said, including collecting fines to raise revenue. Instead, enforcement "should be focused on saving lives." Evans, said, in comparison, "Look at what we suffer getting on a plane. That slows me down, where a speed or red light camera doesn't."

Evans sees hope. "As a nation, we can recognize problems. The U.S. lead the way in commercial aviation safety."

Evans hit home throughout his talk with well-aimed statistics. "Louisiana has as many killed in traffic every year as died in Hurricane Katrina."

last revised: April 2, 2006