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Reducing highway deaths is the top priority for the new leader of the Utah Highway Patrol.

S. Duane Richens, a trooper who worked his way to second in command before retiring two years ago, said Wednesday he agreed to come back mainly because he wants to help Utahns become safer drivers."There are 20 to 27 people killed every month in Utah on the highways," he said. "I came back to see if I could alleviate some of that."

But Richens, 52, said there are few things he plans to change in the patrol. He praised the work of former superintendent Mike Chabries, who recently was hired to be Salt Lake City's chief of police.

Chabries coined a slogan advising people to drive the speed limit and "arrive alive." The slogan is direct and effective, Richens said.

Although he supports the 65 mph speed limit in rural areas, Richens said, too many drivers in Salt Lake County are trying to maintain that speed on the freeways.

"That's where we're having the problems," he said.

Richens was a lieutenant colonel two years ago when he decided to retire from the patrol. He became a communication coordinator for the Utah Department of Public Safety, where he helped consolidate police dispatching centers.

John T. Nielsen, director of public safety, praised Richens' work in combining the police and emergency dispatching responsibilities of several public safety agencies.

"He has literally worked miracles in that position," Nielsen said.

Nielsen chose Richens to head the UHP without going through a formal application process. Because Richens was retired he was collecting a pension in addition to his state salary. He now will have to suspend his retirement.

"He does this at great personal financial sacrifice to him," Nielsen said.

Richens joined the UHP as a trooper in 1960 in the Green River and Uintah Basin areas. He was promoted to sergeant in 1972, in charge of troopers in the Moab area. In 1977 he was promoted to lieutenant in charge of the training division.

One year later he was made field captain in charge of the southern half of the state, a job he held until made assistant superintendent in 1981.

Richens is married and has three children and seven grandchildren.