January 28, 2013 8:00 AM, EST
Editorial: Funding UMTRI
This Editorial appears in the Jan. 28 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has its tin cup out and is in definite need of a few bucks. And we think it would be in trucking’s interest to make sure UMTRI finds the needed money — and quickly.

The institute has been creating and maintaining several important databases dealing with commercial vehicle crashes. And the data has helped the trucking industry in a number of ways.

It’s unfortunate that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration decided to cut off the $600,000 a year it had been providing to UMTRI to maintain its research efforts in September.

An FMCSA spokesman told us that the agency eliminated the funding because of budget limitations and because the agency didn’t feel it should be carrying the entire cost of the projects.

UMTRI says that as a result it cut four full-time researchers from its ranks as well as more than 12 part-time interviewers who helped acquire the data for two of its databases: Trucks Involved in Fatal Accidents and Buses Involved in Fatal Accidents.

Unfortunately, the funding cutoff didn’t come to light immediately. Word is now getting around, as John Woodrooffe, who heads UMTRI, has hit the fundraising trail, including at the Transportation Research Board’s recent annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

One research scientist at UMTRI said that as a result of the layoffs, “a lot of institutional knowledge has been lost.”

UMTRI has been maintaining the TIFA database since 1980.

The group takes data that is provided by the federal transportation agencies and combines it with information its own researchers garner, such as the types of vehicles involved in crashes, what they were carrying and operational details such as the number of hours drivers had been on duty before the crash.

This group’s work is important and helped foster the development of two important safety improvements: stability control systems and collision avoidance technology.

“We have worked decades to get where we are now, and the loss of key data systems seems like a step backward,” one consultant who works in the field told us.

American Trucking Associations has already stated its willingness to help UMTRI by providing some money and by encouraging others to contribute.

UMTRI does work that is worth continuing, and we urge you to consider ways that you might be able to help, by encouraging FMCSA to restore funding and perhaps by providing direct financial support.