Miles to go

07 May 2008

The day after the dawning of the new millennium, a tractor-combination vehicle transporting an oil refinery condenser unit in Glendale, CA missed a turn on its planned route. The driver passed over a highway-railroad grade crossing, turned around and was attempting to drive back over the crossing when the vehicle became stuck on the railroad tracks. Moments later, a commuter train collided with the semi-trailer, resulting in minor injuries and damages of over $2 million.

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation uncovered several contributing factors, including inadequate preparation and route planning for the movement; poor coordination of the movement among the truck driver, pilot car drivers, police escorts and permitting authorities; a lack of recognition of the potential hazard caused by the accident vehicle at the grade crossing; and the fatigue of the tractor-trailer driver and pilot car escorts.

Additionally, NTSB found an industry hindered by the lack of best practices guidelines to assist escort vehicles in the safe movement of permitted oversize/overweight loads. Stepping in to help remedy that situation, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded a grant to SC&RA to prepare the guidelines in cooperation with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).

SC&RA assembled a group of members to develop the guidelines. This task force first scrutinized existing state and federal regulations, as well as pilot car training materials already being used. They started with the best available material and then looked for ways to make it better.

Before publishing the program in October 2004, the task force incorporated suggestions solicited from other organizations. Among those providing feedback were the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation offcials, the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation offcials, a dispatch service and several heavy haulers.

The comprehensive pilot car escort training program included best practices guidelines, training manual, study guide, training test, and law enforcement escort best practices guidelines. Logos of SC&RA, FHWA and CVSA on the cover of each component provided evidence of trustworthiness.

In 2006, SC&RA's work on this training program was named to the 2006 Associations Advance America Honor Roll by the American Society of Association Executives. This prestigious awards program recognizes associations that propel America forward – with innovative projects in education, skills training, standards setting, business and social innovation, knowledge creation, citizenship, and community service.

Our efforts to move America forward through our training programs continue. To augment ongoing efforts to promote the program to the industry and transportation offcials, the SC&R Foundation recently announced it would provide $25,000 in grants this year to fund two research projects related to pilot car training and certification.

A project to analyze and update the best practices guidelines will be funded for $10,000. The guidelines are a living document that must be kept current in order for SC&RA to retain its leadership role as more states implement their training programs. Eight states already use the SC&RA program as the basis for their own certification programs.

A second project, funded for $15,000, will complement the other project by developing a Pilot Car Certification Model. This project will provide minimum quality requirements for states to implement a uniform competency-based certification program, based upon the best practices guidelines. States lack a uniform training process and the industry has no measure to assess ability. Further, some states provide no training guidelines or testing for ability.

Because both our transportation and crane and rigging members require pilot car services to move freight and equipment, this investment should help us protect lives and property while saving time and money for years to come. The Pilot Car Best Practices Training Program is available on our Web site at in the Technical and Reference Items section. With the developmental costs of the Best Practices Training Program being federally funded, SC&RA is able to offer the program for under $10; the fee covers additional reproduction costs.

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