What is a Pilot or Escort Vehicle...

A Pilot Car / Escort Vehicle drivers purpose is to:

Escort car services are always associated with heavy haul trucking utilizing flatbed trailers for oversize or overweight loads. The general catch all term for non-legal (simply meaning permits are required to legally transport) loads is: over dimensional.

Most likely you have seen pilot cars…Pickup trucks, SUVs or cars driving in front of or behind a tractor-trailer hauling a wide load or overweight load.

These are called pilot cars or escort vehicles, and the people who drive them are trained professionals who specialize in this type of driving. You may have thought that the pilot car is part of the truck and flatbed trailer trucking team, but the pilot car driver is generally someone who is contracted to escort the load through a certain state or states.

A pilot car driver works in conjunction with the driver of an oversize truckload to make sure the truck reaches its destination safely. The pilot driver travels in front of or in back of the truck in a separate vehicle, warning the public if there are traffic changes or obstacles due to the truckload. They also warn the truck if there is anything up ahead that can interfere with its safe passage. Furthermore, the person who is driving the car will be able to communicate via CB radio with the truck driver. This allows the pilot car driver to tell the trucker if there are accidents, traffic backups, or any other situations requiring attention.

An escort car driver ensures that everything from switching lanes to crossing bridges is safe for the heavy haul driver, his load and everyone else on the road.

An escort car also helps to ensure that the driver of an oversized load doesn’t accidentally violate traffic laws or cause an accident, while moving the over dimensional load.

Escort Car Equipment

An escort car typically is equipped with eye-catching signs that warn other drivers that a oversized load is following or is ahead. It usually has flashing lights, bright flags that catch the notice of others on the road, and a CB radio for communicating with the person driving the oversized load. These cars also carry maps and emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers and first aid kits, in case unforeseen circumstances arise.

If you are shipping oversized loads that are very high, having a pilot car will be a requirement. It will typically have height poles on it so that bridges and overhead obstacles can be tested for clearance, as based on the height of the truck. This is the only safe way to transport these types of over dimensional loads, and safety on the highway should be your number one concern.

State Requirements for Pilot Cars

The requirements for pilot cars vary from state to state, each state will have different requirements for pilot cars. For example in California any load more than 12 feet wide, will need to have 1 pilot car or escort vehicle at all times. The pilot car or escort vehicle must have flags, signs, and lights on it to warn the motoring public that there is an oversized load in transit.

In some states and on certain routes the escort vehicle must be in front of the load or tractor trailer, and in other states the escort vehicle has to be behind the load or tractor trailer. This depends on what state you are hauling through and on what route you are traveling. Some loads that are wider than 14 ft will need 2 pilot cars, one in front of the tractor trailer and one in back of the tractor trailer.

When the load is over height, some states will require a special pilot car, called a “Height Pole Car”, in front of the tractor-trailer. This type of car has a special telescopic pole attached to the front bumper, which is adjustable to whatever height is needed for that particular load to clear bridges, traffic signals, power lines or other overhead obstructions. In the majority of states these cars are required if the loaded height is more than 17 ft. However, there are some states that require a height pole car at lower heights, in New York height pole cars are required if the loaded height of the trailer is more than 14 ft 6 in.

Most states do not require the pilot car to be certified, but they do need to have specific operational equipment. This equipment may include: flags, flashing lights, cones, orange vests, fire extinguishers and other safety equipment. However in some states the pilot car must be certified, currently in Utah, Washington, New York and Florida the pilot car must be certified by the state. In Pennsylvania the pilot car will need to have specific insurance coverage requirements.

There are also certain over dimensional loads that require state or local police escorts, as an example these are loads that require two lanes or require temporary road closures. These loads are not very common, and the police escort requirements vary state by state.

What is a route survey?

If you are in the heavy hual industry, chances are, you are familiar with route surveys. These surveys are important to keep roadways safe for all drivers and the public. Doing a route survey is a complex task that requires keen eyesight and attention to details. To handle a route survey, the survey team will start by looking at the overpasses and bridge clearances. They have to make sure that any over dimensional loads being over height can safely clear the areas. The survey team also has to check on the height of power lines and other overhead obstacles. Over dimensional loads may have trouble clearing power lines that are down too low, thus they have to be raised temporarily by the utility company. Over weigth loads also need special attention as they may need to be routed around some bridges or overpass structures that will have weight restrictions on them.