Researcher spotlight: Lee Munnich
Lee Munnich brings more than 20 years of state and local government experience to the study of public policy issues at the Roadway Safety Institute. After recently retiring as director of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota, he is now serving as a part-time senior fellow with the Humphrey School. Munnich’s research focuses on a number of transportation issues including transportation’s role in the community, congestion pricing, rural transportation safety, economic development, and evidence-based transportation safety countermeasures.
“Our research on rural roadway safety identified six evidence-based countermeasures that have the greatest potential for reducing fatalities—primary enforcement of seat belt use, universal motorcycle helmet use, sobriety checkpoints, graduated driver licensing program upgrades, mandatory ignition interlock implementation, and automated speed enforcement,” Munnich says.
In addition, Munnich has studied the effectiveness of Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) programs adopted in many states. This research showed that the first four states to adopt TZD programs in the early 2000s each had a significantly greater reduction in traffic fatalities than the rest of the nation; findings also identified five key components of a successful state TZD program.
Currently, Munnich is conducting an RSI project with his research colleague Matt Schmit focusing on how the six states in the Institute’s region have addressed the six evidence-based countermeasures proven to save lives and the extent to which these states have implemented a TZD program. The project includes development of a scorecard to rate each state on these goals, a review of each state’s safety plan, interviews with legislators and roadway safety officials, and roundtables in each state to identify common issues as well as best practices. Once the final report is completed, researchers will revisit each of the states to discuss the findings and implications and to follow up with further interviews with state legislators and interest groups.
“Even though states made significant progress in reducing roadway fatalities and serious injuries in the 2000s, traffic deaths are on the rise again,” says Munnich. “RSI projects like this one allow us to research life-and-death issues that can be addressed through better public policies and legislation.”
Munnich received a bachelor's degree in economics from Georgetown University and conducted post-graduate work in economics and computer science at the University of Minnesota. He’s served as a deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, research director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, economic consultant for the Minnesota House of Representatives, manager of the Midwest Research Institute's Center of Economic Studies, executive director of the Minnesota Tax Study Commission, and was twice elected to the Minneapolis City Council. In addition, Munnich served as director of the national Center for Excellence in Rural Safety established under SAFETEA-LU and has co-chaired the Transportation Research Board's Congestion Pricing Committee. This year Munnich was awarded the University of Minnesota President’s Award for Outstanding Service and the Transportation Research Board’s Congestion Pricing Committee Ed Sullivan Award for Excellence in Congestion Pricing Research.