How to Become a Flag Car/Pole Car/Escort Car Operator
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A pilot car business (also called a "pole car" or "flag car" business) is a vital service for the heavy-haul transportation industry. As a pilot car operator, you are responsible for leading or following (depending on state in which you are operating) a large truck that is hauling oversize or hazardous goods. You are also responsible for driving ahead of a truck with tall cargo height where a measuring pole mounted on your car measures overpasses to make sure the truck will fit under it without damage to the overpass or the cargo.
Obtain full coverage insurance, including coverage for damage to equipment and coverage of bodily harm, for every car and driver involved in your pilot car business. Contact your current insurance company to find out whether it is able to cover you and any equipment that will be operated in a commercial capacity. If not, choose an insurance company that is able to provide such insurance for your business.
Check the laws and regulations related to pilot car services in all of the states you will be operating; note any required licenses or permits for each state especially. Write down the requirements and prohibitions in your operations notebook. Some states will require only one pilot car behind a large truck, while some will require a car in front and also behind the truck. Some states permit amber rotating light bars only, while others permit use of amber as well as clear and blue rotating light bars (see first link in Resources for state-by-state listing).
Install a pole mounting bracket on the front of the car you will be using to lead large trucks with tall cargo loads. A pole mounting bracket should be installed by a professional Department of Transportation-qualified welder since the tall fiberglass poles can be affected by wind gusts that can stress the mounting bracket.
Equip each of your cars with the types of rotating lights (amber, blue, clear and blue) allowed in each state where you are operating. By using magnet-mount style rotating lights, these can be swapped out as desired when crossing the borders of each state.
Equip each of your cars with a magnet-mount "Oversize Load" sign. Most states require such signs on the tops of all pilot cars along with the rotating lights so other drivers know what is ahead. This alerts traffic in front of, or behind, the loaded truck that extra caution is in order when attempting to pass.
Equip your lead car with a pilot car pole and keep it equipped at all times if the freight on the heavy truck has a high cargo load. Lead the truck by at least one mile (or depending on state requirements, if any) when approaching overpasses. This will allow a truck driver to make a detour if any problems ahead exist. Observe whether the pole touches the overpass and, if it does, alert the driver of the truck via CB radio that the cargo will not fit through the overpass and that a detour is required.
Keep within communication distance of the truck driver at all times. CB radios are short-range radios; never exceed a four-mile distance from the truck you are leading or following.
Advertise your pilot car service in as many truck stops as possible. This can be performed by setting up business card "take one" displays in the truck stops near the front counters, or in the drivers lounges. Another method is to provide free flyers rather than business cards. List the states you are able to operate in, whether you have modern vehicles (less than five years old are desired by many trucking companies and drivers), and that you can provide competitive rates. Include your phone number and email address on all advertising media.
Keep a record of your miles, along with hours you have been driving each day. This information is entered in a logbook at the end of every day, just like the truck drivers are required to fill out. These are readily available at all truck stops, and some states require pilot car drivers to show log books on demand when asked by law enforcement personnel. For this reason, keep a logbook accurately filled out at all times.
Obey all laws and regulations in every state when operating your pilot car service, and also treat your clients with respect and dignity. Make it mandatory for hired drives to do the same. Refusal to do so not only comes with the usual legal problems (fines, lost licenses, bad driving record) but can also tarnish your reputation with transportation companies. This can lead to companies choosing other, "more professional" competing pilot car services.
Get plenty of rest every night when on the job. As a pilot car driver, you must be alert to all traffic in front of, and behind, a large truck hauling heavy, oversize cargo. You serve not only as a warning to other traffic, but you are also the "eyes and ears" of the truck driver should other drivers be doing something careless or are preparing to pass the truck.
Kurt Schanaman has had several editorials printed by the Star-Herald Newspaper publication in Western Nebraska. He attended Western Nebraska Community College.