Pilot cars are a crucial transportation tool in the world of heavy hauling. Pilot cars offer an extra level of safety for specialized transportation projects that range from simple to complex and short or long distances.
ACT gathered a group of industry leaders to get their takes on market demands and the issue of pilot car certification. Included in our Pilot Car Forum are Darryl Foust, director, Comdata; Valerie Daniels, pilot car division manager, WCS Permits & Pilot Cars; Dale Karns, vice president, Pit Row Services; and Thomas Alexander, president, Sunshine Flag Car.
How do you characterize the current market for pilot cars?
FOUST: The pilot car market is strong and growing. As states focus more on safety regulations, there is an ongoing need for pilot car services. Customers increasingly depend on pilot car driver expertise, and as shippers and carriers strive to improve business operations and mitigate risk,this reliance will continue to grow.
DANIELS: 2018 was a good year for pilot cars at WCS. All areas of the oversize trucking industry currently seem to be fairly strong. We set records for the number of pilots booked as well as the number of surveys performed by pilot car services. I believe 2019 will be a steady year in which we hope for a continued increase in revenues.
KARNS: The pilot car market has its ups and downs much like any other transportation industry. I’d say the current state of the industry is very up – carriers are currently having a bit more difficulty finding pilot cars due to the higher-than-normal demand.
ALEXANDER: It’s a good industry. There’s not a problem. We’re staying busy, we’re doing the things you have to do to make the business grow. We’ve been in this business for 40 years, and it’s been very good for us. The only problem we have is with the hiring aspect of it. Because we are located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we are required to carry a one million dollar general liability, and some other states are requiring this also, but we have to have it. So, we when we go to hire, we have a very difficult time hiring because one of requirements is they have to get this insurance. It’s impossible for us as a business to supply that kind of money to these people.
What is your best advice for anyone planning cross country transportation that deals with varying state regulations for pilot cars?
FOUST: The advice that I offer shippers, carriers and fleet owners is to utilize the skill set and overall knowledge of industry experts who are up to date on rule changes and regulations that can vary from state to state. Relying on companies that specialize in pilot car services ultimately provides the most efficient process to safely pilot their loads.
DANIELS: Unless a company has extensive knowledge of oversize rules and regulations, getting professional assistance is the key. This assistance can be found through an experienced permitting and piloting service such as WCS. If the company wishes to do the research themselves, I would recommend the help of an interactive database such as The Oversize Load Assistant to assist in obtaining accurate information. Knowing when and where pilots are needed can make or break a project. Pre-trip planning combined with accurate information is crucial to a profitable trip.
KARNS: Research is vital to creating and maintaining compliance to the varying state regulations across North America. I always advise pilot car operators to gather their information from the state website directly – as opposed to a third-party website that may be outdated. When in doubt don’t be afraid to call the state OS/OW permitting office with any questions or concerns. It’s always better to spend your time researching before you enter a new state than to have a load shut down by enforcement because you did not follow their requirements.
ALEXANDER: Make sure you check the certifications for each state. Not all states require things, but to get a Utah certification or a Washington certification, you’re pretty much covered. But North Carolina has their own certification as well as Virginia. However, they do accept reciprocity, they do work with other states. You need to check that out and see what’s going to be needed.
What’s your opinion on Pilot Car Certification? Is there an immediate need?
FOUST: Pilot car certification is an important part of ensuring consistent and uniform processes and training across the industry; certification will help increase the level of safety across all fleets. Pilot car certification is something we see the need for across the trucking industry today as it will help fleets maintain the highest safety standards.
DANIELS: The pilot car industry needs a national certification. The ability to have uniformity with regards to insurance requirements, equipment, signage and lighting would be of great benefit. Basic training in flagging operations; what a truck driver can see; what the truck driver requires of a pilot during movement; and what to do in an emergency would be of great benefit to the pilot industry, trucking industry, as well as the traveling public. I believe the certification should have two levels. The first would allow a pilot to provide chase car/lead car operations, and the second would allow high pole usage and surveying. The certification needs to be broad and not designed around one segment of our industry. A pilot following a 14-wide piece of construction equipment would require a lesser skill set than a pilot doing a survey for an 18-foot-tall autoclave. If we don’t over complicate the process, I believe it can and will come to fruition. When? I wish I could say.
KARNS: The issue of pilot car certification has risen to be among the top priorities of industry leaders and transportation associations across the country. The issue has sparked many discussions over the last few years. I believe the lack of uniformity concerning pilot car certification requirements across North America is a huge concern in this industry that affects the safety of the general motoring public, infrastructure and professionalism of the entire OS/OW transportation industry. I’ve spent years advocating for the increased demand of pilot car certification and will continue to do so until this issue is resolved – which I hope will be as soon as possible.
ALEXANDER: I’ve been a member of SC&RA for 39 years, and I was on several committees. One was with the government. At SC&RA we set up our own certification program. It would have been great because it was uniform and that’s what our industry needs – uniformity. We have no problem with certification, it’s just the idea that you go from one state to the next and things change. In Florida, you have to have a 36-inch high cone. But then you go to another state, the sign difference might be just an inch or two off. As far as uniformity is concerned, that is fantastic. The program we set up with SC&RA was great. The problem was the carriers weren’t enforcing it. The program would have been national, the way we were trying to work it. That’s what we need, national uniformity.
Which government regulations create the biggest challenge to your business and profitability?
FOUST: Finding qualified pilot-car companies with drivers with adequate insurance and certifications to keep up with evolving regulations continues to be a challenge as more scrutiny is placed on the qualifications of the escorts. This will result in increased pilot service rates in a specialized competitive market.
DANIELS: The lack of uniformity creates constant problems. Rules and regulations vary from state to state which causes travel delays, confusion over regulations, and in some cases, requires a change of pilots to comply with regulations.
KARNS: The biggest challenge that affects profitability in this industry is easily the lack of uniformity regarding pilot car requirements across the states. The wide variety of equipment regulations pertaining to this industry cause a lot of expenses to make a car “legal” for nation-wide travel. A few examples could be that some states require the OVERSIZE LOAD sign to be on the front and rear bumpers, while other states require the sign to be mounted on the top of the vehicle. Therefore, in order to be “legal” you must carry the equipment and signage to have the ability to show the sign both on the bumpers and on the roof, depending on which states you happen to be in. Some states require red flags. Other states require orange flags. Therefore, you must carry both.
ALEXANDER: Not really. Other than the insurance, national is okay. We have the SC&RA and PMTA, which I’m a member of also, so if we have any problems, we can call them up and see if they can help us out. They have a lot of pull. Both are big, international organizations, so that helps us out considerabl