A changing landscape

by Derek Clouthier

HOPE, B.C. – According to Jamie Davis, B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway is not the highway through hell it used to be – and if there’s anyone who would know, it’s Jamie Davis.

Well known for his company’s role in the popular Discovery Channel show Highway Thru Hell, Davis told Truck West that a lot has changed since he first put himself and Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto in front of the camera, so much so that he has had to reconfigure his business model.

And the reasons behind Davis’ changed business approach is a testament to the job the trucking industry has done to bring the importance of safety to the forefront of how it does business.

Jamie Davis, owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto and star of Discovery Channel’s Highway Thru Hell, says the trucking industry’s increased focus on safety has forced him to change is business approach, with a move away from heavy recovery.
Jamie Davis, owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto and star of Discovery Channel’s Highway Thru Hell, says the trucking industry’s increased focus on safety has forced him to change is business approach, with a move away from heavy recovery.

“Accidents are down 36% on the Coquihalla (Highway) since the show began,” Davis said. “I think in general, with the push on safety, the recovery side of our business is becoming more and more unprofitable.”

Davis said safety enforcement is much more prevalent now than it was even a few years ago, and the equipment being put on our highways is much more advanced with the most up-to-date safety systems.

“You’re not dealing with a lot of the same things you were dealing with before,” he said. “A lot of companies will not travel past Calgary nowadays because they won’t go over the Coq in the winter time.”

Davis said the reduction in accidents is more about safety enforcement and companies not wanting to foot the bill when they occur.

“Accidents are expensive and they cost money,” Davis said. “Trucking companies are doing everything they can to be safe and enforcement is right there, and the kind of cowboy mentality you used to have isn’t in the industry as much…it’s more of a business. And, yes, a lot of people say there’s not so many great drivers on the road, but at the end of the day, we’re not seeing it (accidents) as much.”

As of the end of August, Davis’ company had only been dispatched to four or five wrecks. When Highway Thru Hell first started in 2012, Davis said they were doing wrecks every 12 hours during a winter season.

But times are changing.

“We’re really finding ourselves gearing down somewhat,” Davis said of heavy-duty recovery. “There’s more seriousness to the safety aspect and it’s affected what we do.”

Recovery is just one aspect of Davis’ business, but it is by far the most expensive.

“Whatever work we did kind of paid for the service,” he said. “We were touch-and-go on the revenue and it wasn’t always a big win financially to do that work…it’s very expensive and the rewards financially aren’t really there…your costs are huge.”

Towing, on the other hand, is a relatively cheap thing to do, but also competitive when it comes to hourly and mileage rates.

Davis said that although there is a love-hate relationship between those in his business and transport truck drivers, there is also a lack of knowledge about the difference between towing and recovery, in particular the vastly differing costs between the two.

Davis’ company is shifting into a phase where it is doing more long-haul distance towing from the US to Canada and much less local, heavy-duty recovery.

“As it becomes less and less viable, it may end up becoming more of a government job,” Davis said. “We may end up having to pay for clearing of that out of your taxes.”
Despite his belief that heavy recovery could one day be in the hands of the government and come out of the pocket of taxpayers, Davis said a lot of work has to be done on the government side to understand his business, and feels the towing industry is mismanaged.

“The problem is that this day and age, they (police) are not really qualified to manage it and they don’t want to manage it,” Davis said. “The Ministry of Transportation stays right out of the towing industry and won’t get involved.

“It’s a very difficult business to be in without proper management.”

Essentially, when an incident occurs on a B.C. highway and a towing company must be dispatched to the scene, the RCMP are tasked with calling a towing company that is on a list, making their way up and down the list to ensure all companies have a fair business opportunity. But Davis believes not all jobs are created equal, and depending on the severity of the situation, one towing company may be much better equipped to work a scene than another.

“It’s a very haphazard situation, where they will call whoever is on the list, we don’t know what kind of equipment they have, we don’t know how it’s going (to work),” Davis said.

“Our resource is mismanaged to the point where it actually affects traffic closures on the highway.”

He added that the call list system is one that has endured since the 1960s, during a time when ‘the biggest tow truck guy would beat the other guy for the job,’ which is exactly why the RCMP become involved; as a type of peacekeeping presence on the scene of an accident.

“We’re behind the times in the way we manage recovery on the highway,” he said.

Kate Mukasa, public affairs officer with B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation, said the RCMP and provincial maintenance contractors maintain a list of qualified companies that offer towing services, ranging from heavy haul to smaller tow trucks.

“Call outs by the RCMP or the maintenance contractor are based on their respective lists, and the calls are made to ensure that the size of the tow trucks are appropriate for the vehicle requiring assistance,” Mukasa said via e-mail. “Where vehicles are not presenting a risk to the public, the choice of tow truck can be left to the vehicle owner.”
Mukasa also said that the vast majority of tow truck companies are professional and do their job well.

“Tow truck companies are responsible incident responders, and they come to the scene properly equipped, with skilled and qualified tow truck operators,” Mukasa said, adding that operators must follow Workers’ Compensation Board regulations while on scene. “The Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE) branch and police are there to deal with any issues that may arise.”

Davis, however, said police simply call either company A or company B and don’t really know what their qualifications really are, and even at times call the company that is next on the list to perform a heavy-duty recovery and they don’t even own any equipment to do the job. Davis even said he knows several senior members of the RCMP who admit the system is antiquated and would prefer not to deal with making decisions on which towing company to dispatch, as it is something they are aware they don’t do properly, but the responsibility remains on their plate.

South of the border, Davis said it’s a different story when it comes to how tow companies are dispatched, citing the Chicago area, where each company is given a specific region to work and is guaranteed the business in that area, and Florida’s Rapid Incident Scene Clearance (RISC) program as examples.

A representative from the RISC contacted Davis after seeing an episode of Highway Thru Hell and questioned why the province of B.C. uses the system it does.

“We forwarded that (RISC) to our area manager and to the Ministry of Transportation and nobody talked to us,” Davis said, adding that he has been advocating for some kind of government involvement in B.C.’s towing industry for some time now and has received no feedback on any of his inquiries.

“It seems like it’s their highway, but they don’t want to get involved with anything that goes on with it,” he said.

Davis said he is proud that Highway Thru Hell has shed a light on safety in the trucking industry. He did admit that there are some drawbacks to being on such a popular show – Highway Thru Hell is the top rated show on Discovery Channel Canada – saying some companies won’t call them for a job because they don’t want to be seen on TV in a wreck. Broadcast in 180 countries, Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto has signed a new contract that will see the company on the show for at least 10 years. Season four is currently being filmed. A new show, Heavy Rescue 401, will also be coming soon, and is similar to Highway Thru Hell but located in the Greater Toronto Area.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • I am in the tow business. I watch this show all the time. Even though I drive a rollback, I learned very much from watching recovery methods. I am very good at what I do , because I want to be. Not bragging, it is a job that has to be done right. Customer and law enforcement both see what you are capable of. There are always going to be things out there to slow you down, or possibly fail at , at first. We can not fail at our profession. Safety is the number one rule. If wrecks and winch out’s are low, we are doing what we are trained to do. PUBLIC SAFTEY. Relocating to another place is sometimes needed, so you can change the highways safety standards. Our job is very stressful and very fulfilling at the same time. So no matter what I will stay true to the business.

  • I think the police should know which company has the experience and is equipped to handle the job before they place the call, and the call should be made to such company. Otherwise it would be like the cops dispatching the rookie to handle a gun fight. Or the desk cop to deal with the drug lords. Or traffic cop to go undercover.

  • Thank you very much for sharing this kind of information. I am also comes in tow industry, and i know the problem behind us. But we have to take challenges in this industry.

  • I have watched the program since it started. I understand all the concerns and issues of the towing and recovery companies. Govt people never seem to want to do the jobs they are paid to do and it is frustrating to deal with them. We need advocates to pressure them. Someone with a lot of money who does not need a favor or a bribe to do the work. If I ever win a big fat lotto, I will join your fight!!! God bless all of you, real men!!!

    • I AM WITH YOU ROSEMARY! I WANT TO JOIN THE FIGHT TOO! I HAVE ALSO WATCHED HIGHWAY THRU HELL SINCE IT STARTED. I BELIEV IN WHAT JAMIE DAVIS IS DOING , and proud that Highway Thru Hell has shed a light on safety in the trucking industry. I have to say that saying some companies won’t call them for a job because they don’t want to be seen on TV in a wreck, that’s just plain stupid. It’s not like it will hurt your business. Look life happens , accidents happen, but when it does and if it were me, I’m calling or what ever officer is there calling JAMIE DAVIS TOWING . THANK YOU JAMIE FOR ALL YOU DO!! i wish i could email him!!

      • I also watch Jamie and his guys. I am a retired trucker in the U.S. I learned alot about recovery methods. I very much enjoy seeing Jamie and crew working recovery. I watch the 401 show also. I’ve delivered freight from USA to Canada from
        Sassakat. To New BrunswUSA.
        LOVED the people in Canada!!
        Great people and great food!!
        Regards, Dan Bushey

  • I began my Towing and Recovery business in 1969 and through the decades doing business as Fleet towing and Heavy Recovery in the extreme Northeast and adjusting with the times,economy,regulations , competition and business model I can attest that State and Local Police are historically inept at controlling the processes involved with dispatching, analytics , territory protection, and proper equipment, insurance and expertise of crew … 49 years later the best thing I can say about the industry is that it’s consistent, and I’m talking consistent with doing “0” to improve the state of the industry so I’m happy to say that I’ve survived and retired from the business I’m also sad to say in 5 decades nothing has improved and if you stay in it it’s strictly for the adrenaline and satisfaction that the trade has no shortage of. So there will always be entrances and exits from the business unless you have an abundant supply of tenacity and savvy. Good Luck Guys , SPB

    • Great comment,I know been a couple years but it’s what has been going on since the 70’s when I started and I heard the same thing from my mentors. A couple who’d been towing since the 50’s.A mostly cash business that relys a lot on word of mouth.Christmas time a lot of liquor bottles to be delivered to officials. I heard one company that delivered catalogs to officers so they could pick their “ thank you” present.I even saw the catalogs but it was right outside Chicago in the 70’s a lot worse went on.

  • I have watched this show for a long time. My son has been a truck driver for 25 years, accident free. He is pretty disgusted with the industry because the schools are sending out drivers who are not ready to be on the highways. He says he has the utmost respect for tow companies because those people are in a lot of danger.

  • I have watched the show for a while now, and towed since 1966, what Jamie is saying is true, most Officers don’t understand what it takes work an accident scene, and honestly don’t care as long as it gets cleaned up as quickly as possible. The size of the tow vehicle isn’t as important as the knowledge of the operator. The biggest tow truck in the world, being operated by someone who doesn’t understand towing and recovery, won’t clean up a wreck. It is a dangerous business, equipment costs are high, insurance costs are high, and it’s hard to find good employees, it takes time to train an employee on recoveries.

  • I just watched the latest episode of your show (that i have been watching since the beginning) and after the bs that i watched of you guy taking two days on that two episode one that’s it for me wow

  • Does anybody know what happened to Jamie’s man, Howie? I really liked him, he was very good at his towing!!!! I think he went to work over in Alberta. We never see him anymore.

  • When I watch the show I can’t help but think that margins wouldn’t be so tight if there weren’t high payments on top-of-the-line, brand-new, bells-and-whistles, shiny-chrome equipment.

    Was that a factor?

  • I have watched this show (though I missed some episodes) and admit its one my favorite show to figure out advanced towing and recovery ideas. I am in towing business from last 5-7 years and recovered and towed vehicle of all capacities and sizes (heavy, local or long distance). The major reason for the decrease in highways accidents is due to the availability of modern tools and vehicles and especially this show!

  • Company I work for and a wreck state side. After the cleanup was said and done a 66,000dol bill was incurred.. but that’s using a couple rotators at 200 plus dol at a hr.. smaller jobs should not be using high end equipment

    • The Economics of Reality has proven itself again.
      How does one invest in a $4-500,000.oo Rotator and then
      wait for the phone to ring to put it to work ? Meanwhile,
      wages , registrations, permits and liability coverage is
      assessed upfront before you can even answer that phone
      call. Now mix in favoritism and overlapping competitors
      for a random ( accident) revenue event. El Dorado re-discovered ? Or is this a financial hiway to hell ?

  • I have been a volunteer FF for along time in northwest Pa. We are a very rural county but do have our share of MVAs. mostly family cars and pickup trucks. The cops give the owners a choice of tow companies for those types of vehicals but when it comes to semi’s or large trucks the cops chose the tow companies. They know what size equipment each company has and what they can do.

  • Everyone has a Smart TV these days, there’s no reason to think people’s car’s aren’t getting any smarter. With over 10 years experience in the industry I share the view of others that Change is good no matter the case. Fewer collisions means a more happy and positive life for everyone. The TV show has brought a lot of light to how dangerous it is for operators to be on the side of the road, and though the Slow Down Move Over Law doesn’t appear to be followed as closely as some of us may wish, I believe smarter cars will help us get there.

    Adapting is a way of business and being able to pivot quickly is what keeps business’ thriving, good on Jamie for making the move. Cheers!

  • Jamie Davis brought attention to the trucking industry and highway safety. It has resulted in safer truck operators and more authority awareness. Resulting in a reduction in trucks getting wrecked. Jamie should be commended,
    but that doesn’t pay the bill’s.
    Dave Van Daley

  • I love the show, but still do not understand how so many lorries( British) have so many accidents! Is it all down to bad driving? I was surprised to hear that many of those big rigs are automatics, and I think that in part must contribute.
    You can’t control a vehicle the same as you can with manual gears.
    It is also accepted here that very cold weather can interfere with how a motor acts in the cold.
    I’m waiting on some of the newer series hitting the U.K.