Truck Driver Shortage Stressed By Hurricanes

Posted at 1:40 PM, Sep 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-15 20:50:23-04

In Tennessee, the greater trucking industry has accounted for one out of every 13 jobs across the state, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. Even so, there's a massive driver shortage, and companies have been working to recruit new drivers every day.

It may be hard to find someone who loves his job more than Walmart truck driver John Lex.

"My view out my office window changes every time these wheels turn," he said while behind the wheel. "I've never wanted to do anything else but be a truck driver like my dad."

Lex called himself a third-generation trucker. His grandfather drove a school bus. His father ran a truck for Publix, which allowed employees to bring their children to work.

"I can remember my dad waking me up in the morning and saying, 'Beau, you want to go to work with me?'" he recalled, his voice catching at the memory. 

His love for the job has been why he's baffled at the current trucker shortage of almost 100,000 drivers nationwide.

"I don't have anyone hounding over me. I'm the captain of my own ship here," Lex said. His favorite route is Interstate 26 between Asheville, North Carolina and Johnson City, Tennessee for the mountain views and the fresh pavement. 

The job has its perks - like when Lex got to meet President Trump on behalf of the American Trucking Association (see video above), but it's not always an easy career.

"It's hard committing to an industry where you have to work weekends," he acknowledged, "and I think our industry is finally realizing that and allowing our drivers to get home more often." Lex sticks to the southeast region and currently works five days on, two days off on a rotating schedule. 

Traffic Anchor Rebecca Schleicher rode with him across Nashville Thursday morning. It took just a few minutes for multiple cars to cut in front of them, passing quickly and getting over extremely closely. 

It's a huge danger, with 75 percent of semi-involved crashes blamed on the smaller vehicles on the road, Lex said.

"At 80,000 pounds at highway speed, it'll take the length of a football field from end zone to end zone to come to a complete stop." 

Despite that, it's a job that has connected people with the products they use every day. Including in case of disaster, like the recent hurricanes in Houston and Florida, which have made the driver shortage even more critical.

"We take drives from all over the country, bring 'em into those areas," Lex said, talking about his employer Walmart. "I'm pretty confident when I go back I'll be running some disaster relief loads down there [to Florida]." 

So the next time you see a tractor trailer on the road, it could be Lex in the cab.

He'll save a seat for future truck drivers who are needed to keep the wheels turning.

"Here I am 30 years later, and I'm still living the dream," he said.

The average truck driver salary in Tennessee has recently been $43,860. CDL driving school takes six to eight weeks, and companies will often pay for drivers to take the classes.