On January 3, 2017 the Discovery Channel debuted Heavy Rescue: 401, a reality show that follows emergency rescue and recovery towing operators on Ontario’s 400-series highways. The show follows on the heels of Highway Thru Hell, a highly successful program filmed in the British Columbia interior which finished its fifth season in 2016.
The program is a pleasure to watch. Tow operators compete to be first on the scene to rescue tractor-trailers from the ditch and to complete the jobs quickly to keep traffic flowing. The recovery operations are dramatic and the dangerous nature of the job is apparent with traffic whizzing by and weather conditions creating slick roads and further hazards.
Entertainment value aside, the program has the potential to significantly increase public awareness about road safety. For this reason, the reality show’s producers have gained the support of the Ontario Safety League, Ontario Provincial Police, and York Regional Police. The Ministry of Transportation also allowed the show access to its COMPASS Traffic Operations Centre, offering viewers an inside peek at the massive computer network of MTO cameras and personnel who manage highways in the GTA.
If the show’s predecessor Highway Thru Hell is predictive, Ontarians stand to benefit with safer roadways. British Columbia’s Coquihalla Highway experienced a decrease in accidents of 36% since the show began. One of Highway Thru Hell’s star tow operators, Jamie Davis, reported that “…with the push on safety, the recovery side of our business is becoming more and more unprofitable.”
The show’s producers and supporters hope that the show will educate viewers about the value of being prepared for winter travel and the role that that snow tires can play in avoiding collisions. Even more dramatically, the importance of obeying the ‘move over’ law (which requires motorists to slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle and to move over when possible) is highlighted through intense footage of near misses at the side of the highway.
Heavy Rescue 401 presents an opportunity for Ontario motorists to experience the work that goes into keeping our roads safe in extreme weather. What’s more, viewers can walk away with knowledge that makes them safer drivers.