Pilot car drivers escort oversize loads on roads and highways to alert other drivers and prevent accidents. Drivers generally work for private companies. In some cases, depending on state law, police officers may be required to provide the escort. Some states require drivers to be certified. For example, in New York, pilot car drivers must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver's license and pass the New York State Escort Drivers Certification Test. The specific laws and regulations for escorting an oversize load vary by state.
Escort Equipment Requirements
Escort drivers use a passenger car, truck or van to escort the oversize load. The vehicle must be in good condition. Some states require flashing amber lights on top of the vehicle. All escort drivers and the driver of the oversize load must be equipped with two-way radios to maintain communication. Some states allow the driver to act as the flag person, while other states require a second person to ride with the driver and fill that role.
Oversize Load Permits
Before beginning the trip, the pilot car driver must ensure that the truck driver has a permit to transport the oversize load. According to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicles traveling on interstate systems must have a permit if the gross vehicle weight exceeds 80,000 pounds. State law may have additional standards for state and local roads. Each state is responsible for issuing oversize load permits for transportation on both local and federal roadways.
Pilot Car Positioning
Escort drivers may be positioned in front of or behind an oversize load. An oversize load may be escorted by two drivers, one leading and one following the load. Depending on speed and weather conditions, drivers should maintain a safe distance of approximately 500 to 1000 feet, advises the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Drivers in the front car provide a warning for oncoming traffic and notify the driver of the oversize load about any potentially dangerous conditions such as stopped traffic, road obstructions and overpasses. Drivers operating behind the oversize load communicate with drivers in the front about any traffic backup behind the vehicle, rapidly approaching vehicles and any hazardous conditions on the oversize load, such as flat tires or loose parts.
Routes and Traffic Laws
Escort drivers should know the route before beginning the trip and follow the route exactly. They must obey all traffic laws and maintain a safe distance between vehicles. Some states mandate a maximum speed for oversize loads. For example, in Virginia, an oversize load cannot exceed 55 miles per hour.
Passing Other Vehicles
Drivers must communicate by radio when the oversize load needs to pass another vehicle. The rear escort driver moves to the passing lane to block traffic and allow the oversize load to merge into the lane and pass the slow vehicle or other obstruction. The rear pilot driver must stay in the passing lane until the oversize load has merged back into the right lane.
Stopping and Flag Duties
In some cases, pilot car drivers or the assigned flag person must stop and direct traffic. For example, in Virginia, if the route involves a two-lane road that is too narrow for the oversize load to navigate with oncoming traffic, the flag person in the lead vehicle will drive ahead to stop traffic. If the oversize load vehicle experiences a mechanical breakdown, it should be removed from the roadway if possible. If the oversize load is involved in an accident, all drivers should stop and the police notified. Some states, such as Virginia, suggest drivers remove the vehicles from the roadway if possible to prevent another accident.