UMTRI was founded in 1965 as the Highway Safety Research Institute through gift funds to The University of Michigan totaling $10,000,000, of which $4,000,000 was used to construct the present four-story building. UMTRI is currently operating a $10,000,000 per year research program, a substantial share of which is derived from governmental research contracts. The multi-disciplinary approach taken by UMTRI is reflected in the variety of disciplines represented within the Institute, and by its involvement with other units at the University. Present staff is about 150 including 60 permanent research staff and 12 teaching faculty affiliated with University academic departments.
Many basic research questions can best, and in some cases only, be answered by a multi-disciplinary approach seldom possible in the traditional disciplinary structuring of a University. One objective of UMTRI is to provide a setting for University faculty in which this can be accomplished to generate new basic knowledge and to provide student training at several levels.