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What Is a Pilot Car?

The most common use of a pilot car is as a way to guide a truck with wide, heavy, or oversized loads of freight.

Also known as escort vehicles, pilot cars can also be used to support and guide airplanes on runways, convoys of huge vehicles, and cars moving through construction sites.

This article will delve into how pilot car drivers are helpful with moving large freight and when they might be needed. 

Why Pilot Cars Are Used for Wide or Heavy Loads

A pilot car is used as a safety mechanism for trucks moving heavy, wide, or oversized freight. Professionals specialize in pilot driving and do work across the country. Pilot drivers understand the process of moving items over states, cities, or the entire country. They know how to move large loads safely for the freight, drivers, and roadways.

  • A pilot driver has a variety of responsibilities. These include:
  • Making sure travel is safe for both the truck driver and those on the roadway with them
  • Preventing any damage to important or expensive freight
  • Avoiding accidents and the increased insurance rates that come with them
  • Coordinating moving obstructions like signals, signs, and wires when needed
  • Preventing any damage to infrastructure and roads while moving
  • Avoiding traffic, managing traffic flow, and preventing delays when possible

You’ve probably seen pilot cars when you are out on the road. They might be cars, pickup trucks, or SUVs that drive behind or in front of a tractor-trailer with an overweight or wide load. While driving is part of the job, the list above gives evidence that there is a lot more to the process than just that.

When you drive around, you might have noticed clearance signs near tunnels or weight signs before going onto a bridge. For the average person, these signs don’t mean a lot. However, with tall or wide freight, the warnings are very important.

The pilot car driver who leads the big truck looks for potential traffic, accidents, obstacles, and interference. Next, they share those things with the truck driver to determine what steps to take next. Pilot car drivers can even assist trucks with switching lanes without compromising the safety of other drivers.


Common Equipment Used on Pilot Cars

Most pilot cars will have easy-to-see signs that alert drivers that an oversized load is behind or in front of it. Flashing lights are common, as are bright flags that catch drivers’ eyes. In addition, a pilot car driver will have a CB radio to communicate with the person driving the truck with the large load. Maps and emergency items like first aid kits and fire extinguishers are also often on pilot cars.

Height poles and other equipment for pilot cars will also be on hand if the freight is very high. If the tunnel, overpass, or cables touch the height pole on the pilot car, the driver will be alerted and a new route will be chosen to avoid harm or damage to the truck and its load.


Requirements for Pilot Car Drivers

Every state has different requirements for pilot cars. These can also vary based on the size of the load. Some of the things that may vary by location include the following:

  • Insurance coverage
  • Flags, lights, and signage
  • Certifications
  • Use of one or two pilot cars
  • Required operational equipment
  • Use of a height pole if freight is tall
  • Whether pilot cars are behind or ahead of trucks

It’s important to check the pilot car requirements and oversize permits based on the state to avoid legal issues, accidents, or damage. Having a pilot car available can cut down on the chance of damaging a load or running into unnecessary delays.