By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
Let’s play the “blame game” with regard to HIGHWAY THRU HELL.
As the acclaimed Canadian original series returns for Season 8, Monday at 10 p.m. ET on Discovery, there’s something we’ve always wanted to ask one of the stars of the show, Jamie Davis.
Having spent his professional lifetime hauling stray vehicles, big and small, out of the ditch on B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway, what percentage of accidents does he think are caused exclusively by weather, versus mistakes made by human beings at the wheel?
“That’s a tough question,” says Davis, the owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck & Auto, a towing company he started in Hope, B.C., more than a decade ago. “Sometimes it’s just totally weather-related, where it doesn't matter how great a driver you are, or what shape your vehicle is in. But that's a small percentage, maybe 10%. The majority is driver error - driving too fast for road conditions.”
It’s quite shocking to hear someone as experienced as Davis claim that even on a highway as treacherous as the Coquihalla, probably 90% of the wrecks are due to drivers making poor decisions. So when Davis shows up to rescue these drivers, what’s their general mindset? Are they embarrassed by what they’ve done?
“That's a tough one, too,” Davis says. “In a serious accident, drivers might be in shock. But some people I've seen can just totally run a truck over the bank, climb up the bank and get a ride with a buddy, and not even hang around. They just leave the scene and move on, gotta get home. Different people react in different ways. Some people are responsible and they stick with it, right until the thing comes out of the ditch, they stay and work with you, while another breed of guy would just abandon ship, see ya.”
Certain people are conscientious and others are not … some things never change, right? But one thing that has changed is the training required to keep up with all the new technology and new equipment that’s used in the towing business.
“The industry has come a long way since I was a kid,” Davis says. “In the old days it would be, you know, go with your Uncle Bob and he'll show you how to do it, and he did a lot of hard work, and you learn, sometimes the right way and sometimes the wrong way. Today we have modern training that is absolutely required to keep up with the new technology and equipment. Even after all these years in the business, I take training, believe it or not.”
All things considered, what weather condition makes Davis cringe the most when he has a job to do? From watching HIGHWAY THRU HELL, we might assume snow is the worst. But maybe it’s ice? Or rain? Or mud?
“No - it's sloppy, wet, slushy snow,” Davis says. “Cold weather is not bad. Black ice you can handle. Rain is not so nice, but you can live with it. Even a cold, brutal, dry snow is not really an issue. It's the sloppy, wet, slushy snow that I dislike the most.”
There’s a specific incident that illustrates his point.
“I can remember being on the Coquihalla picking up a bus, and the Coquihalla is quite steep,” Davis recalls. “I'd been up long hours and had a bit of pneumonia and I'm underneath this bus, lying on my back, I'm tired and grumpy, we've been through heck already. I had a big snowsuit on, and all of a sudden this big wave of slush and water came down the Coq in a river, and went right down my neck. I can remember lying there, just freezing cold, the icy water running down my back, and I was like, 'Just shoot me, get this over with.' ”
It’s not a job for the faint of heart. But that’s what makes HIGHWAY THRU HELL such a compelling television show.
“It's a brutally tough environment, and every year we have guys who tap out,” Davis says. “You need a military mentality. When the other guy fails, you're the guy who does it. But almost 10 years of my life on TV? I never expected that.”