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Oversize Load Pilot Cars: A Safeguard for Freight Transport

May 4, 2022
 By Joey Rizzolo
Oversize Load Pilot Cars: A Safeguard for Freight Transport
Last Modified: March 8, 2023
When hauling oversize or supersize heavy-haul loads, a pilot car is required. Our guide will explain everything you need to know regarding these escort vehicles.

The use of oversize load pilot cars is a necessity for hauling many types of large or heavy haul freight. This often includes cargo that’s incredibly long in length or takes up multiple lanes on the road.

Oversize load pilot cars are escort vehicles that guide a heavy haul transport on roads and highways. These cars provide direct communication with a load driver to execute a planned route and bring awareness to other drivers and pedestrians. Laws and regulations surrounding pilot cars vary by state.

The following guide discusses the reasons and requirements surrounding the use of pilot cars and oversize loads, and how to ensure you’re shipping with the right carrier.

Why Do I Need an Oversize Load Pilot Car?

Oversize load pilot cars, also known as escort vehicles, are an absolute necessity when transporting wide, oversize, or supersize loads in trucking. Pilot cars serve as a warning vehicle to anyone on or near the road, and to take caution.

These pilot cars are a defensive measure against all manner of issues that can come up during the shipment of large oversized items or equipment. Some of the load types transported with the assistance of a pilot car include:

  • Mobile Homes
  • Cranes
  • Generators
  • Bulldozers
  • Steel beams
  • Telephone poles
  • Large farm equipment

When transporting a load of extraordinary length, height, or width you will require pilot cars to alert those around the transport vehicle of its presence on the road and assist with lane changes and turns.

It’s similar to how a tugboat guides a large vessel in and out of a port. In this instance, tug boats only guide large vessels in and out of ocean ports. Pilot cars however guide the transport on the entire journey from start to finish.

oversize load pilot cars escorting a section of mobile home

What Scenario Requires a Pilot Car?

There are a number of scenarios whereby pilot escort cars are required. There are multiple scenarios where the use of anywhere between one and four pilot cars might be required for the safe and effective transport of wide loads, oversize loads, or supersize loads.

You may have noticed the inclusion of police escorts along with pilot vehicles. Some states in the U.S. mandate the use of police escort vehicles in coordination with the Department of Transportation (DOT) for that state.

Nevertheless, each scenario is unique and special as it pertains to the movement of an oversize load. Pilot cars are what keep these transports and those around them safe. Any accidents that can occur are safeguarded by the deployment of escort cars that bring awareness to the road and the transport driver.

How Transporting Oversize Loads Work?

Transporting an oversized load takes careful planning and precision in order to execute a strategy in a timely and safe manner. The first thing to do is get in touch with a trusted carrier or third-party logistics (3PL) company and describe your haul.

The next step is to come up with a plan in coordination with the company in question regarding the width, height, and length of your load. Also, take into account the type of equipment needed to carry and pull your load with the appropriate number of pilot (escort) cars needed.

Lastly, you will need to complete paperwork and attain the required permits for any state in the union that your load is being moved in or out of during transportation. This process is lengthy and detailed so it is important to use a trusted carrier that is knowledgeable of all state and federal laws concerning the transport of oversize and supersize hauls.

The Benefits of a Route Survey

There are clear benefits to the survey of the desired path to transport your load from where it currently is to its final destination. There are many variables that are taken into account along with the survey.

  • Maximum road weight: The max load allowed on a road or bridge can be crucial, some roads cannot support certain weights without damage.
  • Road clearance: Low-hanging bridges or trees that extend out into the road can be a problem for the transport of their cargo.
  • Narrow roads: When an oversize load travels along a narrow road extra precaution is needed to avoid oncoming traffic, turn radius, and potential road hazards.
  • Short turn radius: Depending on the roads, a 6-wheel truck has a shorter turn radius than 8-wheel trucks. The 6-wheel is often preferred with roads that have a tight turn radius.
  • Congested traffic: When there are areas that have congestion like state roads, highways, or main roads through towns and cities, a survey team will reroute the load in pre-planning.
  • Metropolitan area: Major metropolitan areas are avoided with oversize loads in almost all cases. The survey team will route the load around the city.

These variables play an intricate role in the movement of oversize loads. Conducting a route survey is critical to the success of your transport. This move cannot be achieved without intricate planning and execution from both the pilot car drivers and the transport driver.

Our friendly and knowledgeable consultants will ensure you have the right equipment and proper planning to handle your oversized load today. With easy route planning and paperwork problems eliminated, you will be on your way to moving any oversized load with ease.

front view of a truck with an overwide load visible

Laws and Regulations Surrounding Pilot Cars

Heavy haul transport companies move wide, oversize, and supersize loads all the time. Carriers like Heavy Haul and Oversized understand the importance of not only following the rules set by each state but using the proper escort equipment in an effort to keep your load safe.

The laws and requirements surrounding the use of escort vehicles vary by state. Each state has its own rules regarding the number of pilot cars required by law depending on factors that surround the load itself.

When dealing with an oversize load, it is critical to consult each state’s DOT. There are laws and regulations that govern the transport of wide, oversize, and supersized loads. Each state requires a permit to legally move such loads in their state.

Required Equipment For Pilot Cars and Oversize Loads

When a trucking company performs heavy equipment transports, the requirements vary by state. The types of pilot car services, car equipment, the number of escort vehicle drivers, and equipment, such as a height pole, are all determined based on different factors.

When transporting oversize loads, there is a wide array of equipment that is necessary to get your load from point A to point B. The equipment required serves the purpose of not only effective transportation but also safety.

These large loads are so massive that they cannot go unnoticed. Oversize loads often take up multiple lanes on a road and have incredible lengths and ride heights. This poses an issue for others on the road, such as other cars, pedestrians, and structures.

Pilot Car Requirements

It is essential that the transport company consults the route survey with the pilot car drivers. The following is required equipment on both pilot cars and the tractor which moves the load:

  • Amber caution lights: Two lights mounted on the roof that strobe and rotate.
  • Oversize load banner: Mounted on either the roof or front bumper with visible black lettering.
  • Orange flags: Two 18” by 18” mounted at a 40 to 70 degree angle on top of the vehicle.
  • Height pole: for protection against low bridges or overhangs.
  • CB radio and two-way communication devices: in order to communicate with the load driver.

The use of amber lights, load banners, flags, height poles, and communication devices are requirements for not only regulations but public safety.

As an example, the table below shows the pilot car services that are required by the state of Florida. These requirements vary, so it is critical that the pilot car company you choose follows the mandated rules of each state.

Florida Pilot Car Requirements

Transport Vehicle DimensionsPilot Car Requirements
Width: Over 12’ to 14’1 Front
Width: Over 14’ to 16’2 Cars  (Front and Rear)
Width: Over 16’3 Cars (Front and Rear) + Police
Height: Over 14’ 6” to 16’1 Front with High Pole
Height: Over 16’1 Front with High Pole + Police
Length: Over 95’ up to 150’1 Front
Length: Over 150’ to 250’2 Cars (Front and Rear)
Length: Over 250’Two Cars (Front and Rear) + Police
Source: Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Oversize Load

This equipment is mission-critical for the transportation of an oversized load with the use of pilot cars. Every load is different and will have a different deployment of equipment based on the specific factors that surround your load and its destination.

Transport Vehicle Requirements

The requirements for vehicles traveling across the country are federally mandated under the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (NSIDH). The regulations give the ruleset for max vehicle weight on interstates and highways in the United States.

USDOT Weight & Axle Regulations

Maximum WeightAxle Type Weight
20,000 poundsSingle Axle Weight
34,000 poundsTandem Axle Weight
80,000 poundsTotal Maximum Allowable Weight
Source: US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

It is essential for the carrier, truck driver, and pilot car driver to follow the rules and regulations that are not only federally mandated and also the laws of each state in the U.S.

pilot car driving ahead of a truck with an oversized load

Driver Requirements

There are requirements for pilot escort drivers that vary for each state. However, escort vehicle drivers are required to complete an eight-hour defensive driving course provided by the National Safety Council.

Anyone who drives for a pilot car company must also be 18 years of age and possess a valid state-issued commercial driver's license with a class A, B, or C certification at a minimum. The driver must also individually carry or have liability insurance carried by the pilot car company they drive for in their state.

If you are unclear about the laws or regulations surrounding oversize loads and the use of pilot cars. Please visit the DOT of your state or you can contact one of our experienced heavy haul experts who would be happy to help point you in the right direction.

Which States Require Special Certification?

Some states in the U.S. require pilot car drivers to hold a certification. There are several states that recognize each other's certifications and accept them as valid. This initiative reduces the number of registered certifications needed across multiple states.

  1. Arizona
  2. Colorado
  3. Georgia
  4. Florida
  5. Utah
  6. Washington
  7. Oklahoma
  8. North Carolina
  9. Virginia
  10. Pennsylvania
  11. Texas
  12. Kansas
  13. New York
  14. Minnesota

Currently, these 14 states mandate that certification must be held in order to pilot escort a wide, oversize, or supersized load. Make sure that you choose a carrier with proper certification if shipping your freight in one of these states.

Oversize Load Costs

The costs associated with an oversize load and pilot cars will vary depending on your use case. There are a number of options out there to handle your oversize load with the use of pilot car services.

Different factors will influence the total cost per mile, such as distance traveled and the weight of the load. Also, what kind of transport vehicle is needed, the number of pilot cars, and what permits are required.

All of these factors make it difficult to calculate the total cost of an estimate quickly. That is why you should consult with an expert to go over the requirement of your transport and what you need in order to see it through at the best rate possible with a trusted carrier.

Heavy Haul and Oversized Can Facilitate Your Oversized Load With Ease

Using the services of an oversize load pilot car to move your cargo can seem like a daunting task. There is no need to go it alone. Not when there is a complete solution that is unmatched in service and support like Heavy Haul and Oversized.

Our Heavy Haul Trucking is the gold standard and will provide a level of service that cannot be met by any other option. We offer a full suite of services that complement the oversized task of your load:

  • Friendly experts: Individual services without talking to a bot or online algorithms.
  • Paperwork handled: Our team handles all paperwork pertaining to your load.
  • Specialized equipment: The latest in equipment used specifically for your load.
  • Route planning: The most accurate and effective route planning in the industry.

Heavy Haul and Oversized is committed to providing not only peace of mind, value, and dependability  but also unmatched service. Our team feels a direct obligation to the safety, accountability, visibility, and stability of your load. Give our friendly experts a call at (855) 490-2433 or click for a direct quote now.

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