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Students to Promote Road Safety in South Africa

May 16, 2010

A group of undergraduate students from the University of Michigan visited UMTRI recently in preparation for a four-week trip to South Africa. Fifteen students will make the trip in July. Their international mission is to promote road safety awareness among children and youth through community-based learning activities.

The students are part of the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) at U-M. They're majoring in a variety of academic subjects, including psychology, aerospace engineering, accounting, and communications, among others.

UMTRI assistant research scientist Oliver Page will lead the four-week trip. This is the first time that an UMTRI research faculty member has participated in the GIEU program. Page says that the students' diversity of backgrounds will serve them well when they interact with youth in South Africa.

"Participation in the tour will help the U-M students realize that road safety cannot be taken for granted," said Page. "By Interacting with South African children and youth, the U-M students will gain some insight into the attitudes of South Africans toward road safety and understand that behavioral change does not necessarily follow from the acquisition of knowledge."

Road safety is a chronic problem in South Africa, explained Page, who cited poor driver behavior, DUI offenses, and pedestrian infractions including disregard for safe crossing places. The U-M students will engage in community-based programs to promote road safety to young people as a way to improve future conditions and influence new generations of road users.

The students became interested in the trip partly due to Page's promotion of the importance of road safety in economic development and the fact that UMTRI is a center of excellence in this area. Five of the students visited UMTRI in early May to tour the facility and meet with a variety of UMTRI faculty and staff. Afterward, the students visited two elementary schools in Ann Arbor to interact with children while discussing road safety.

Ideally, these types of interactions will spark a long-term interest in transportation topics among some of the students, said Page.

"Their visit to UMTRI and subsequent tour of South Africa is all the more interesting with the possibility that one day they could view transportation research as a potential career opportunity," he said.

While in South Africa, the students will stay with local host families and will have the opportunity to visit places of interest, including Kruger National Park, Union Buildings, and Mandela House in Soweto.

The U-M students include Jake Bowman, Dia Bright-Johnson, Logan Chadde, Joel "Chaim" Frenkel, Munmun Khan, Agnes Kucharski, Annalise Latting, Jimmy Li, Xun Miao, Sarah Osman, Stephanie Soliz, LaDiamond Stanley, Semhar Tesfai, Avi Wolf, and Cheng Zheng. Student fellow Jen Cowhy will assist Page in leading the tour.

Photo courtesy of Oliver Page.