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Pilot Cars

The average person who sees an oversize/overweight vehicle thinks one thing: big. It’s huge. It’s a massive truck. They only say this because their point of reference is a world full of small Clasiq cars and SUVs. The truth is many oversize loads really aren’t all that big in the world of oversize loads. The presence of a pilot car is a sure sign to the lay motorist the load ahead is a big one. As in all things trucking, even pilot cars are controversial and their necessity is a point of contention state by state.

The first point of controversy is pilot cars go by two names. The first? Pilot cars, duh. The second name these vehicles are referred to are “escorts”. The Illinois Department of Transportation, in their OPER 993 form, refer to them as escorts. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in an effort to harmonize all things oversize/overweight, the details matter. For this article, they will be referred to as pilot cars so as not to be confused with escorts of a different trade.

The second point of controversy in Illinois is the lack of statutory mandates regarding pilot cars. The Illinois Vehicle Code requires pilot cars for certain oversize movements of implements of husbandry and buildings for agricultural/livestock raising operations. The IVC also gives IDOT the authority to create rules for pilot cars and sets fees for when the Illinois State Police serve in this capacity.

A common misconception among motorists (and sometimes police officers) is pilot cars are required for ALL oversize loads. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What the IVC does not mandate is pilot cars for local roads. Each township, municipality and county has the authority to set their own rules regarding the use of civilian pilot cars or local police officers.

The third point regarding pilot cars in Illinois is the lenient standards of IDOT. This is not a bad thing, as for once Illinois is not the most restrictive state in the midwest.  IDOT requires a progressive number of civilian pilot cars based on increasing dimensions of the load.

Illinois State Police troopers are not required until the load is greater than 18’ high, 18’ wide or 200’ long. No pilot cars are needed for legal weight, oversize-only loads, nor are pilot cars needed for overweight-only loads.

Compare this to the State of Missouri. A state trooper is required in the front of the move and a civilian pilot car is required at the read for overweight loads weighing 160,000 pounds or more, even if they are not oversize. These two pilots vehicles are also needed if the load exceeds 16’ wide, 16’ high and 150’ long. The State of Indiana requires four State Police vehicles piloting their superload permits.

Where Illinois is more restrictive with pilot cars is the size of the pilot car itself. Illinois Administrative Rule 554.408 requires the vehicle to have gross weight of 8,000 pounds or less. Some have interpreted this to mean the manufacturers GVWR or the registered weight, but that’s not what the regulation says. It only says “gross weight”.

In Missouri, the law does not specify a weight. It only says the pilot car must be a single vehicle such as an “automobile, pickup truck, utility vehicle, station wagon, or equivalent”. Indiana requires the vehicle must have a minimum four wheels and a gross vehicle weight of 12,000 pounds or less.

The thought process behind the smaller pilot car requirement in Illinois is for a few reasons. First, a smaller car allows greater maneuverability through intersections. Second, the purpose of a pilot car is not to transport freight for the permit load itself. One could reason the bigger the pilot car, the more a person can stuff into it. The smaller pilot car limits this opportunity.

Are these regulations right? Are they wrong? It’s an ongoing debate nationwide as the carrier industry attempts to harmonize regulations across borders and struggles with the idea of civilian pilot car certification. The ITEA encourages the states to continue to discuss this topic, and for local agencies to play ball as well.

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