UMTRI was founded in 1965 with a $10M grant from Ford, GM, and the Automobile Manufacturers Association. At that time over 50,000 people were dying in traffic events annual in the U.S. alone. Originally called the Highway Safety Research Institute, its founding mission was to analyze the elements of the complex and dynamic system of people, automotive vehicles and the environments in which they operate, and to develop practical and effective solutions to urgent problems of highway safety within that system. 

From the beginning, researchers were encouraged to be bold, courageous, and seek collaborations across the university.  Robert Hess, UMTRI’s founding director once said “you find the very best people to lead in each discipline and then you get out of their way.” 

In July 2019, UMTRI joined forces with the Michigan Engineering, one of the nation’s premier engineering colleges. This merger forged two key players in advanced transportation and mobility research, to more effectively move the sector into the 21st century in ways that are safe, equitable, and efficient. This moved has allowed us to bring together complementary strengths, combining expertise in transportation technology, biosciences, human factors and data science, as well as the social and behavioral sciences.  This merger also gives UMTRI researchers greater access to a wide range of engineering resources including labs, faculty and in particular, students.