James Sayer named director of Transportation Research Institute


The Office of Research has announced that James R. Sayer has been appointed director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute.

Sayer is a research scientist and head of the Human Factors Group at UMTRI, as well as an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering. He is an internationally recognized leader in the conduct and evaluation of field operational tests of motor-vehicle safety systems and the study of naturalistic driving behavior.

James Sayer

He recently led the design and development of Mcity, U-M’s unique, 32-acre full-scale simulated urban environment for rigorously testing the performance and safety of connected, automated and autonomous vehicles under realistic, controlled conditions.

“Jim has shown exemplary vision in conceiving innovative interdisciplinary research projects that show the commitment of UMTRI to its mission, and strong leadership in building the relationships with faculty, industry, and government required to make them happen,” said S. Jack Hu, vice president for research.

Sayer also served as the principal investigator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program, a $31 million program to demonstrate connected-vehicle technologies on the streets of Ann Arbor.

The results of the Safety Pilot Model Deployment are being used by the DOT to determine driver acceptance for connected-vehicle technologies, and to evaluate their feasibility, scalability, security and device interoperability.

Sayer has conducted more than $70 million in basic and translational research in such areas as connected vehicle technology, advanced vehicle safety systems, driving behavior and driver distraction since 1993.

His work in connected vehicles and the development of Mcity earned Sayer a 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change award.  

As director of UMTRI, Sayer will assume leadership of a research unit that has achieved a worldwide reputation for its interdisciplinary research on motor-vehicle safety and injury biomechanics.

In collaboration with researchers across campus as well as with government, industry and other academic institutions, UMTRI has carried out more than 1,000 short- and long-term projects in broad areas involving accident data collection and traffic safety analysis, bioengineering, human factors, mechanical engineering, psychology, economics and public policy.

Carol Flannagan, who has served as interim director of UMTRI during the search for a permanent director, will continue to serve in that role until Sayer’s appointment begins March 1.

“UMTRI just celebrated its 50th year,” said Hu. “I am confident that Jim has the right knowledge, experience, and abilities to lead the organization into its next 50.”


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