Jim Santilli has more than 23 years of transportation safety experience and began his career with the Transportation Improvement Association (TIA) on May 15, 2006. Santilli was asked to lead the agency during January of 2011. He was officially appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer by the Board of Directors on June 24, 2011, and is the 4th leader in the 57-year history of the agency. Previously, Santilli worked in a variety of public safety positions and as a college criminal justice instructor.
In 2021, Santilli became the Chairman of the Michigan Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commissions’ Distracted Driving Action Team. He previously served as the Chairman from 2013 to 2018. Santilli serves on the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee, M-53 Corridor Committee, and coordinates the M-59 Traffic Safety Team. He previously served as the 2016/17 President of the Intelligent Transportation Society of Michigan’s Board of Directors, and a member of the Oakland County Connected Vehicle Task Force, Oakland County Transportation Committee (2011 to 2019), Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) Transportation Advisory Council, and Ferris State University Traffic Safety Team. He is a member of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Southeast Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Macomb County Association of Chiefs of Police, Oakland County Association of Chiefs of Police, and Oakland County City Managers Association.
As a leader in distracted driving awareness, Santilli led the development of the “Remembering Ally: Distracted Driving Awareness Campaign,” which was named after a 16-year-old Romeo High School student (Ally Zimmerman) who was hit by a distracted driver in 2010. She later died from her injuries. The campaign was one of five traffic safety programs in the nation to receive a Peter K. O’Rourke Award during 2013. It also received a 2012 Outstanding Traffic Safety Achievement Award from the Michigan Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission. A component of the campaign, a realistic distracted driving crash education video, received an Eclipse Award for production excellence and has been viewed in more than 90 countries. Since 2010, Santilli has been speaking about the dangers of distracted driving and promoting increased enforcement. He began working on hands-free local ordinances during 2010, and publicly announced the Hands-Free Michigan Campaign on March 30, 2016. That same year, Santilli conducted extensive research and provided State Representative Martin Howrylak with language for a hands-free distracted driving bill that was introduced in the Michigan Legislature during 2016 (HB 5867) and 2017 (HB 4466). State Senator Ruth Johnson used the language to introduce SB 288 during 2019 and SB 409 during 2021. Furthermore, he organized an enforcement initiative known as “Operation Ghost Rider,” which was featured nationally in The Wall Street Journal and at the 2019 Governor’s Highway Safety Association’s Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California.
Santilli holds an Airman Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with a small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) rating. He has more than 9 years of experience flying multirotor and fixed-wing unmanned aircraft, and also completed private pilot ground school courses. Since 2018, Santilli has trained professionals from 176 agencies (federal, state, county, local, tribal, and college/university) and companies in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. He’s flown numerous public safety missions, which include: auto theft and drug trafficking surveillance, fatal and severe injury traffic crashes, fire, homicide, natural disaster, police involved shooting, and search for missing and armed persons. During 2023, he searched for safety hazards after Hurricane Idalia. He also spent several days searching for and assisting victims after Hurricane Ian during 2022. Santilli is an appointed FAA Safety Team Representative, member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and lifetime member of the Air & Space Forces Association. He previously served on the Michigan Aeronautics Commissions’ Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Advisory Committee, and was part of a sheriff aviation unit for 4 years.
Santilli served as an Ambassador at Detroit Metro Airport from 2014 to 2015 and 2018 to 2020. He was the recipient of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s prestigious ‘Elite 40 Under 40’ leadership award during 2012.
A lifelong resident of Michigan, Santilli is a graduate of Ferris State University and Dakota High School. At FSU, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, received the Torchbearer Leadership Award, and an award from the Department of Public Safety for many years dedicated to traffic safety.
Santilli frequently communicates with other professionals throughout the nation and world to remain on the cutting edge in transportation safety.