This article was written by a contributing author, and is not meant to be taken as legal advice, nor is it intended to replace the state statutes. Do your due diligence, cross-check the statutes linked, and communicate with your local municipalities, registrar, or commissioner to ensure that you remain compliant and avoid costly fees.
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Every day oversized loads travel across the highway, creating a potentially unsafe environment for motorists. The load they’re carrying is often large enough to reach over into more than one lane or far enough back that other motorists may not see it with enough time to react.
These dangerous conditions can be mitigated by a safety-oriented driving team that surrounds the oversized load in the front and the rear. Pilot vehicles are what help keep the load and motorists safe. Their bright emergency vehicle lighting and warning flags tell you that there is something you need to watch out for.
The amber warning lights on top of the pilot car alert everyone on the road about the potential safety hazard they might encounter. Pilot vehicle LED warning lights can be the difference in whether or not you make it home to your family – the tremendous responsibility cannot be overstated.
So, What Exactly Does a Pilot Car Do?
When it comes to road safety, the pilot car or escort car has much more responsibility than simply being in front or back of the larger vehicle on the road. What we see when we are on the road is simply the final step in the process.
Driving a pilot car includes but is not limited to:
Simply having the amber warning lights or LED light bar attached to your emergency vehicle doesn’t permit you to get behind the steering while guiding the truck with the oversized load. Classes and certifications are necessary for anyone wishing to operate a pilot vehicle. Certificates must be renewed regularly depending on the state in which you received certifications.
Prior to the trip, the pilot car will survey the route to ensure that the oversized load can safely make it through. They will assess curves, corners, freeway on and off-ramps, as well as the traffic that travels that route. There will be no stone unturned when it comes to making sure the load can travel safely.
Pilot Car Safety
The pilot car itself must be equipped with proper registration, communication capabilities, LED light bar, headlight, tail light, brake light, emergency lights, and everything in between. The driver must ensure that every indicator, toggle switch, tire, and mirror is fully operational before starting the trip.
The pilot car must be able to adequately communicate with both the driver of the oversized load as well as the other pilot vehicle. This communication allows them to inform the other vehicles in the convoy about traffic and road conditions to prevent safety hazards from occurring.
The pilot car has the legal authority to control traffic to ensure the safety of the load. This includes rolling stops, preventing vehicles from passing, and stopping traffic altogether. Much to the annoyance of the average driver, pilot cars must be treated as an emergency vehicle in order to ensure the safety and security of everyone on the road.
These responsibilities give the pilot vehicle more control over the road than a tow truck and almost as much as an emergency vehicle. Pilot cars must be treated with respect as your very life can depend on their actions on the road.
Pilot Car Requirements
With the critical tasks involved with being a pilot car, there is a great responsibility to make sure the vehicle is safe to be on the road. This includes the vehicle’s safety as well as safety equipment and attachments. Let’s dive into what every pilot vehicle needs in order to be road-worthy.
Type of Vehicle
There aren’t many restrictions on the type of vehicle that can be used for the pilot car. SUVs and pick-up trucks are not outside the norm. As long as the vehicle is road-worthy and registered properly with adequate equipment, then you are likely good to go. Always check with your local state guidelines.
The pilot vehicle must have all the proper lighting to be considered road-worthy. This includes your daytime running lights, amber beacons, strobes, dash and deck lights, indicator lights, LED light bar, and perimeter lights. Having one headlight out can disqualify the vehicle due to code non-compliance. The criticality of the task cannot be left up to chance.
Your pilot vehicle may potentially be required to have fire extinguishers, flags, cones, flashlight, a first aid kit, measuring poles, and communication equipment. This may ensure proper safety in most situations. These requirements may vary by state, so make sure you check with your local DOT before getting on the road.
Everything Fully Functional
Your mirrors must be clean and attached, steering wheel alignment should be correct, each indicator light operational, brakes intact, headlamp and fog light lens all clean, and any other DOT requirement met. Anything that can hinder the safe movement of your vehicle must be fixed before getting on the road.
Spare Fluids and Equipment
While safety equipment like flags and your LED warning light are the staples to your pilot car, roadside emergency equipment is also necessary. A full-sized spare tire, as well as extra fluids in case you run low, must be present in the vehicle before you start your trip. Don’t forget to monitor any check engine light warnings. Safety is the first priority, and as you know, you cannot be safe if broken down and stuck on the side of the road.
Making sure that your vehicle is ready for the road is almost as important as the job itself. Lacking in any one area can result in disaster.
What Types of LED Lights do Pilot Cars Use?
For the layperson, the lights associated with pilot vehicles are typically a set of tail lights, and maybe a small amber light stuck to the top of the cab. Those lights barely scratch the surface when it comes to amber requirements.
Here are a few more options that may or may not be required by your state but will still enhance the overall safety of your pilot car.
Interior LED Light Bar
Having an interior LED light bar adds to the safety element of your pilot vehicle. You can use this in conjunction with your other LED equipment. The bright light can be seen from a legal distance of 500 to 1000 feet. The set-up is simple and inexpensive.
Exterior LED Light Bar
Although the interior LED light bar may be sufficient, having a full-sized exterior lightbar attached to the top can offer more visibility on the road. While it is easier to see a bright light or flashing light at night, you will want your LED light to be visible to other motorists during the day. Having the light positioned in a prominent location will give motorists the ability to see you from farther away.
Strobe Light, Beacons, and Directional Lighting
LED strobe lights and beacons can give the pilot car some extra visibility in the times that it may need it. These lights are typically hidden and only visible when in use e.g. inset in the grille. Directional lightsticks come in handy during emergencies when you are trying to direct traffic away from the load that you are protecting.
You may not ever need to use this, but having an adequate LED light for emergencies can help out immensely. These work lights can assist in illuminating the load that you are piloting in the event of an emergency, and you need to pull off the road. They can also illuminate your vehicle if you need to perform on-site maintenance, such as adding fluids or changing the tire of your pilot vehicle. These are not ideal things to need to do on the side of the road, but a bright light helps create a safe environment when the need arises.
Mini LED Light Bar
These are the more common lights that you will see utilized by your average pilot vehicle. Pilot cars are often owned by the pilot car driver. Since the driver is using their personal vehicle, they won’t always want it equipped for work. Mini LED light bars do the same job as full-sized LED light bars, except that they are more versatile. Some of them come equipped with magnets to hold them in place, while others can be removed with just a few screws here and there. This allows the driver to utilize their car outside of work without appearing to be an emergency vehicle.
Ensure that your pilot vehicle is adequately equipped with the proper LED lights necessary to avoid creating an unsafe environment for you, your truck driver, and motorists on the road.
Pilot Vehicle Safety
Pilot vehicles are a safety measure necessary to avoid creating catastrophe on the road when oversized loads are involved. Taking all the steps needed to ensure that they are ready and able to make the trip is crucial. With lives at stake, no stone should be left unturned.
Ensure you have your LED lightbar needs met, your vehicle fully stocked with safety equipment, and your certification up to date before performing this vital task.
Consult with Brooking – your emergency vehicle lighting professionals – who can make sure you obtain the right pilot vehicle LED warning lights affordably.