What’s new in pilot car certification?

By Hannah Sundermeyer24 January 2022

Chris Smith, vice president of transportation for SC&RA, has his finger on the pulse of all things pilot cars and heavy haul. The SC&RA Pilot Car Committee is hard at work on a number of initiatives to improve the pilot car industry and streamline certification nationwide. The first notable task is a collaboration with the Pilot Car Committee and the SC&RA Safety, Education & Training Committee.

“If you really think about the issues that are most important to the pilot car industry, and the carriers who use pilot cars, at the end of the day, it’s safety,” said Smith. “Pilot cars exist for safety reasons. Pilot cars are mandated in states for safety reasons. It’s all part of that mission of safer delivery of oversize/overweight loads. So, it makes sense that the two committees would work together.”

The SC&RA Pilot Car Committee is hard at work on a number of initiatives and certification efforts across the nation.

The two committees are joining forces for the creation of a Best Practices Guide for Pre-Trip Meetings along with the harmonization of nationwide certification.

Over the years, the pilot car industry has set out to become better regulated, a safer industry overall and establish a state DOT training course certification to enhance the reputation of pilot cars. Smith said that there’s only a handful of states today that have certification programs, which is a problem. And not all states recognize one another. Dubbed a “two front issue,” the SC&RA has set out to promote the need for change, and the encouragement that certified escorts are a beneficial thing for all 50 states.

“We are now seeing manufacturers and manufacturer customers of the oversized/overweight industry that are also demanding certified, safe operations of pilot cars. They don’t want their wind blades destroyed. They don’t want to be in the newspaper about a big accident.”

The energy industry is one of the first manufacturers to take a proactive step in ensuring the safest, most reputable pilot car operators. A new development in the industry is the formation of the Wind Industry Transportation Professional Advanced Certification, (WITPAC), bringing together three leading wind manufacturers in the U.S., despite their competitor status. GE, Siemens-Gamesa, and Vestas launched the certification course that is recommended for transport drivers, P/EVOs (Pilot/Escort Vehicle Operators), steerpersons and other professionals who work alongside wind industry transport teams, according to the WITPAC website.

“WITPAC is one of the first things we’ve seen where a manufacturer, hauler and pilot car are coming together despite them being competitors,” said Smith. “And there’s already chatter about the next steps.”

Pre-trip planning

When it comes to a successful haul, there are a multitude of elements that have to be executed to optimize safe operations. Pre-trip planning is a crucial part of the process.

“You need a driver that knows what they’re doing,” said Smith. “The load needs to be secured properly and the pilot cars, driver and management all need to know the route. The customer and manufacturer needs to know that their product is moving safely and timely. The point of a pre-trip meeting is self-evident.”

As both a task force and a work group, reputable pilot car committee members and carrier members got together to start an initiative to share best pre-trip practices. The result is that Best Practices Guide for Pre-Trip Meetings has evolved as a step-by-step guide of how to navigate the pilot car industry. Smith credits the collective expertise of carriers and pilot cars who, “do this every single day, and do it well.”

In the end, there is also a large legal and insurance aspect to consider. Insurance and liability often dominate the conversations, and the pilot car industry hopes to see a decline in rates following this initiative.

But overall, Smith and other leaders in the industry are very optimistic about the days to come.

“We have hopes that the pilot car industry is seen as a necessary and essential partner for safe travel of the oversized/overweight industry, and seen as a reputable partner and good steward of their role on the OS/OW team where carriers and pilot cars are comfortable enough working with each other and recognizing how important they are.”

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