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With respect to oversized and overweight loads on public highways, the rules and requirements are largely the responsibility of each state, and therefore, may vary, sometime significantly from one sate to another, including when pilot or escort (P/E) vehicles are required. Typically, a vehicle carrying an over-dimensional load must be accompanied by one or more pilot cars if the load is more than: 12 feet wide; and/or 14 1/2 feet high, and/or exceeds 90 to 100 ft in length. In many states, if the width is 14 feet or more wide, two pilot cars are required, one leading and one following. Note, these are common over-dimensions and state requirements. Each state may have additional requirements. Operators of over-dimension/overweight loads are cautioned to review the requirements of each state within which they intend to operate.
When permits are issued, the issuing state agency will indicate if and how many P/E vehicles will be required.
Generally, loads wider than 13 feet, longer than 100 feet, and/or taller than 14 feet require at least two P/E vehicles, one in front and one behind. Again, the precise dimensions and the requirements vary by state.
For example, Massachusetts requires a P/E for loads more than 12 ft wide and two P/E vehicles for loads more than 13 ft, 6 in. wide. Ohio requires a P/E for loads more than 13 ft. wide and two P/E vehicles for loads more than 14 ft, 6 in. wide, and police escort for loads that exceed 16 ft.
For over-dimensional heights, Massachusetts has the lowest maximum height of 8 ft, 8 in. and that requires one P/E, while heights more than 13 ft, 11 in. require two P/E vehicles, front and rear. If the height exceeds 14 ft. 11 in., Massachusetts requires two P/E vehicles and a police escort.
Meanwhile, Alabama lists only a requirement for one P/E vehicle for anything more than 16 ft. high. Generally, states west of the Mississippi River allow heights up to 14 ft. before an escort is required, while for most states east of the Mississippi, the maximum height is 13 ft. 6 in.
Operators are cautioned to check the specific over-dimensional limits for each state through which they plan to travel.
P/EVO operators must be at least 18 years old—21 in some states.
Currently, twelve states require P/EVO to be certified. Certification is obtained by taking a one-day certification course provided in each of the twelve states and passing a written test at the end of the course. The P/EVO may be required to recertify every 3 to 5 years.
Some states recognize the certifications of other states. Several states do not recognize other state certifications and therefore permit only P/EVO certified within that state, for example New York. Even states with reciprocal agreements often require a P/EVO from one state to check in and register with other states at the first available inspection station. States that require P/EVO Certifications are listed in the adjacent box.
Even in states where P/EVO certification is not required, it is beneficial for P/EVOs to take a Driver Improvement Course. In addition to sharpening driving and safety skills, completion of the courses often qualifies the operator for lower insurance rates.
States that currently require P/EVO Certifications: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia.
Professionalism is a key P/EVO attribute. Driving an escort vehicle is more than just leading or following an oversized load. It requires understanding of what the truck driver needs in terms of assistance and what is needed to maintain the safety of all vehicle operators in the vicinity of the load. Drivers need to be vigilant for any hazards, slow-downs, and other challenges the truck driver may face.
Clear and precise communications is a fundamental skill to effectively act as a P/EVO. Communications equipment must be dependable and easily understood. The recommended mode of communications is via a Citizens Band (CB) radio. It is easier to use than a cell phone and will be received by the truck driver and other P/EVOs involved.
Driving skills are important. In addition to driving the vehicle, the P/EVO must understand the requirements of the truck driver and his load and be vigilant for conditions that would affect the safe operation of the truck and the load.
All P/EVOs, especially drivers over the age of 55, should consider taking a driver improvement or defensive driving course. Available courses include the American Automobile Association's (AAA) Roadwise© program or the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Smart Driver™ Course. Many states also offer defensive driving courses. Successful completion of such a course may also earn discounts on insurance premiums.
Whether required by law or not, the benefits of lower insurance premiums and the importance of learning about and hearing reminders of safe driving practices is a good investment of time and money—an efficient way to mitigate risk. It is recommended that drivers take such courses every three to five years.
P/EVOs represent the trucking company they are working for. While a professional appearance and manner are recommended, P/EVOs are prohibited from displaying any badge, shield, emblem, or uniform of color or design that may be mistaken for a law enforcement badge, emblem, or uniform.
P/EVOs should be physically fit, mentally alert, and well rested before beginning any trip. Adequate hearing, vision, and physical mobility are especially important for safe traffic control operations.
There is wide flexibility regarding the size and type vehicle to be used as an escort vehicle. Some states require that escort vehicles must weigh at least 2,000 pounds or be at least quarter-ton pickup trucks. Some states simply specify that the P/EVOs have a clear 360-degree field of vision from the driver’s seat. This requirement could rule out panel trucks or vans.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), among other groups recommend the equipment shown in the list be carried in each escort vehicle.
Escort vehicles are also required to have a large, appropriate “WIDE LOAD” warning sign, either mounted on top of the vehicle, or the front and rear of the vehicle, that conforms to the requirements of the states through which they are traveling. Escort vehicles may be required to display placards or signs identifying the pilot or escort company’s name, location, and phone number. Company logos are permitted that promote the operators P/EVO services.
Note, the wide load signs do not have to be removed when the P/E vehicle is not performing escort duties.
Many states also require warning flags mounted on the escort vehicles. Depending on the state, either two or four flags are required. Some states require flags that are 12 inches square while other require 18 inches square.
Most states will accept safety markings that exceed their requirements. For example, 18-inch square flags would be acceptable if the state required only 12-inch-square flags.
Typically, escort cars are expected to have a rotating/flashing amber light mounted on top of the vehicle, with a light that is visible at 500 feet.
If the truck is hauling hazardous materials, the escort vehicle should have appropriate first aid kits, protective gloves, masks, and clothing to protect drivers and P/EVOs in the event of a spill.
Also, a height or measuring pole is required if the load exceeds 14 feet high (above the road surface). The height pole must be mounted on the lead vehicle.
Basic Recommended Equipment in each Escort Vehicle: Mileage record book, Oversize load signs, 2 Two-way radios (CB), 4 Flags (vehicle flags), 4 Flags (emergency traffic control), 8 Reflective triangles, 12 Safety road flares, Warning lights, Hardhats, safety vests, Reflective safety jackets, 2 Flashlights, First aid kit, STOP/SLOW paddle, Approved fire extinguisher(s), Full-size spare tire, Tire changing tools, Spare parts/fluids, Spare bulbs for all lights, Vehicle mirrors, Measuring pole.
Moving any over-dimension load is a team event. While the truck driver is responsible for the safe operation of the truck, the P/EVOs are essential partners in achieving that safety and expediting and protecting both the truck and its load, as well as the drivers of other vehicles sharing the highway.