Reality show paints trucking in bad light

by Al Goodhall

The first time I watched an episode of Heavy Rescue: 401, I remember thinking to myself, this isn’t the image we need to project of trucking in Ontario.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it is a reality cable TV show focused on the 400-series highways in Southern Ontario and the challenges faced by tow truck operators, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to keep the high volumes of traffic moving. It’s a program based on the philosophy of “if it bleeds it leads.” Truck wrecks are the focus, and it doesn’t paint commercial truck drivers in a favorable light. The show is trending towards becoming a media arm of the OPP and MTO commercial vehicle safety enforcement divisions.

As a commercial truck driver, I have a lot at stake as to how my profession is portrayed in the media, so my opinion about safety issues on the 400-series highways could be construed as anything but objective. I believe the majority of truck drivers are professionals that share the same safety objectives as the enforcement officers tasked with managing the high volumes of traffic on our roads. We’re on the same side. What I disagree with is the approach to how we can reduce and prevent truck crashes on Southern Ontario highways.

I’ve always advocated for more training and certification of professional drivers. This is the route we should be pursuing to address the root causes of poor driving actions within the trucking sector, in my opinion. The approach of the OPP and MTO is to hold individual drivers to account and Heavy Rescue: 401 is proving to be an effective approach in conveying that message to the public.

My wife has a sign that she hangs in the kitchen every Halloween. Under a skull and crossbones is the message, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

This is the same message truck drivers are receiving from enforcement agencies in Southern Ontario.

So my argument isn’t that truck drivers should not be held to account for their actions. What I support is ongoing training and recognition of our profession as a skilled trade. We have an attitude problem more than we have a lack of skills problem. We’re not facing up to that challenge.

If you do a search online of the most dangerous jobs you will find that truck driving is consistently in the top 10. It’s interesting that first responders don’t appear in that top 10 list, despite the dangerous nature of the work that they do. Why is that? I believe it is directly related to the quality and the quantity of the training first responders receive. First responders are directly involved in their training with attention being paid to their mental health as well as their physical well-being.

Now look at the quality and quantity of training professional truck drivers receive on an ongoing basis. It pales in comparison. Even within our own industry safety professionals in non-driving positions receive far more hands-on safety training than the drivers that operate the heavy equipment on the front line and deal with the anxiety directly related to life on the road.

There is much debate in the trucking media of late between the OPP and the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) when it comes to statistics and how they are interpreted. The OPP state that truck collisions are on the rise and truck drivers bear an increasing responsibility, the OTA argues that the percentage of truck drivers found at fault in collisions continue to decline. But statistics don’t resolve the root cause of collisions. The physical injuries, the post-traumatic stress issues, and the loss of life that result within the truck driving profession are not being addressed in the most effective manner.

Most truckers have impeccable safety records, love what they do, and spend weeks away from home keeping our economy humming. We’ve lost sight of that.


Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.

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  • yes i agree training is the most important part , (our problem is you give new young poeple a pitcher of a hammer and a real nial , and tell them to become carpenters ), the age limites and the restrictions placed on trucking companys makes it impossible to take younger drivers spend time with them in real life , and teach them to respect the laws and then show them why . thanks

  • Hi Al-I am in agreemnt with you,as the problem has been the same for the 50 years in my transportation career. To attract a higher Quality of Professional driver wage scale should match other “trades,”and the Government and private sector need to upgrade training courses much like existing trades. British Columbia’s standard for Class 1 license consists of “16 hours air brake theory and 24 hours practical training” and legally one can operate a variety of artticulated equipment, including B trains?? There has been no changes since 1971! – John W. Vancouver.

  • Hi Al, I read your editorial and while I agree with the sentiment of your comments, I must say that much of what is displayed on both the Heavy Rescue 401 and Highway Thru Hell programs is spot on for what we deal with on a daily basis.
    I have worked in the towing and service industry for 30+ years and have unfortunately watched a somewhat steady decline in what I call “professional truck drivers”. Is more/better training needed, most definitely! But I would also say that a better oversight program for the “training schools” is also a paramount need. My shop is on Highway 17 in a very small town, so my perspective may be skewed. But I have had “drivers” that have taken 18, yes 18, attempts to back into our lot which has a 150′ wide unobstructed driveway. In the last 6 months I’ve done 3 winchouts for “drivers” that BACKED into the ditch on the TransCanada Hwy, one of which thought that, even though he was blocking an active lane, at night, on a corner, it would be OK to climb in his bunk and go to bed (cause he had a tow truck coming from Toronto 8 hours away)! In the last 8 months I’ve been called by the OPP to do 3 commercial vehicle impounds for “drivers” that were DUI!! These are neither a true example of the vast majority of true professional drivers nor are they an image the industry wants to portray, but they are a problem I have noticed increasing during my career.
    Do the MTO/OPP twist statistics to suit their objectives, no doubt however the trucking industry will sooner or later have to come to grips with the lack of experience and or ability of new drivers. Even well established companies are being forced to hire “drivers” with virtually no experience put them in $200k units with high dollar loads and send them on their way. It is a situation that simply cannot support itself, either the insurance claims or the damage claims will inevitably swallow all profits.
    Training is the solution for sure but who pays for it and how do they fund it? The Ontario government recently mandated an extended training period in order to get an AZ license. But unless there is oversight on the schools some of the less reputable operations will continue to churn out potential disasters looking for a place to happen.
    Lastly I take some offence to your reference that First Responders jobs are not as dangerous as truck driving. Although not considered as First Responders by many, the tow industry in North America loses an operator, killed on the job, on average once every 5 days. This statistic has been consistent for a few years now, these operators are killed doing their job thru no fault of their own. Simply trying to keep the roadways safe for all motorists, including truck drivers.
    Dennis Roberts
    Blind River

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Denis.

      I agree with you. These reality cable shows do show what it is we are dealing with everyday. Like you I live that experience daily. My issue with the program is how these shows are being used as entertainment and a PR tool. On one hand they create awareness which is great but on the other hand they leave you and I, the front line workers, without a path to making our situation any better.

      As to your comment about first responders I believe the job of first responders presents far more physical dangers than truck driving but the degree of training police, fire, rescue workers receive on an ongoing basis helps them deal with and prevent injury to themselves while providing life saving services to the public. As you point out this doesn’t hold true for tow operators. I would say you have never received the level of safety training and respect for the work you do that is extended to our publicly funded sisters and brothers in the police, fire, paramedic fields. At least this is how I see it.

      I’m a trucker not a writer so often the depth of my experience and understanding doesn’t always come through in the space I am allotted each month in Truck News. I am incredibly grateful to be granted the space to speak up as a full time trucker on the issues we face and the lifestyle we live.

      Really appreciate you taking the time to respond thoughtfully to this column. Hearing from other drivers about the issues I write about is important to me. I know I never have all the answers only an opinion about my own experience.


  • I’d like to say I just found this show by cable surfing LOL..(Have watched all episodes) I’m not a truck driver at all. I don’t feel truckers are portrayed as “Bad” in this show. I feel it’s a show to educate what it takes to clean up the trucks that have accidents. It’s not like a car that they can just hook up to and leave. The tractors and trailers get damaged and I say it definitely is a ART as well as SKILL to get them cleaned up. I understand trucks are on time schedules but do notice people, no matter what they are driving up there don’t slow down for the conditions, which strikes me as odd. I’ve seen plenty of jackknifed trucks in my 40+ years of driving, as well as multi car pile ups. Now add icy snowy conditions into the mix and it has to be awful for truckers that are put on such rigid schedules to deliver their products. Watching this show and seeing quite a bit of “Due to icy, snowy conditions” (Which yes we have that here in Colorado,USA also. Not to the extreme this show has. ) Mother Nature is brutal up there. This show gave me higher respect for the — How the clean up happens people As well as the Truckers dealing with snowy, icy conditions. I always respect trucks due to them being bigger, needing more room to stop and make turns. I don’t like the disrespect the “Looky Loos give the accidents, or the responders…..I think it’s pathetic how traffic honk as they go by the tow responders as to say get outta my way. literally stop to take pictures WTH?? Nobody slows down let alone moves over, realizing they could actually hit them so sad. I especially like the animated part that they show happened to cause the ending results. My hats off to this show!!! I personally look at it as educational, not entertainment, of how trucks respond and the distance they travel before stopping. As well as how the rescue people have to sometimes offload so many trailers before they can actually move them. I use to haul scrap metal with my husband for 21 years and we only had a two ton dually with liftgate. Totally understand the longer stopping times involved. We never had a accident but were in several situations that could have ended as one. I like this show, Every Rescue crew is amazing how they get things cleaned up. I honestly feel bad for the truckers that endure their crashes, Truckers that have lost their lives, Every member of clean up crews. God Bless them all. Nate from Herb’s is my favorite guy and Gary from preferred Towing.