At the annual meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) in Tampa, fleet managers and suppliers launched efforts to address two important issues facing the trucking industry: the shortage of technicians and the need to set technical standards for black boxes, even though most carriers oppose using this technology to record HOS data.

According to Michael Jeffress, vp-maintenance for Maverick Transportation and outgoing chairman of TMC, these issues are part of a larger trend. “New emission regulations, improvements in braking, communication, transmissions, and other technologies are all making our jobs more complex because the vehicles themselves are becoming increasingly complex,” he said.

“The decisions we collectively make now, we will live with for the next 15 years starting in 2007,” said Jeffress. “That's why it's so important to get it right now.”

One of the top issues facing fleets is the growing shortage of heavy-truck maintenance technicians — a shortage predicted to get worse in the near future.

“It's a problem and we're working on several fronts to address it,” said Michael Walters, director of maintenance for refrigerated carrier Marten Transport. “That includes finding ways to recruit more people into the technician field, improving the technician's image, and offering them more training as trucks continue to get more complex.”

Walters heads up TMC's Professional Technician Development Committee (PDTC), which is working on a variety of outreach efforts through advertising campaigns and scholarship programs to attract more high school students to the technician career path.

TMC is also putting some serious brainpower behind an effort to develop acceptable technical standards for the electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) — commonly referred to as black boxes — used to automatically monitor and record hours-of-service (HOS) data.

Jim Tipka, vp-engineering for the American Trucking Assns., said TMC has agreed to take up the challenge of hammering out technological standards for the black box through its S-12 and S-24 study groups.

Carl Kirk, TMC's executive director, stressed that this effort is focused solely on developing standards for an HOS device; it will not focus on event data recorders being developed for accident reconstruction purposes. SAE is handling the latter.