When Are Escorts/Pilot Cars Necessary For Oversized Freight Shipments? (Width, Height and Length Requirements by State)

Pole-Car-Escorting-Wind-BladeOver-dimensional (OD) freight shipments require a lot from the companies that manage them. Among other things, permits must be acquired, a route must be planned and the correct transportation solution must be identified and arranged.

Failing to line everything up correctly can lead to significant delays and issues — a reality that plenty of companies face on these loads. 

Unfortunately, from one location to another, there is a lot of variance in what’s required for an OD shipment. In the end, this makes it difficult for many companies to keep their freight running smoothly. 

Too often, shippers are left with questions like: What kind of permits do I need?; Which curfews will impact my freight?; What kind of transportation solution is the best for my load?

Answering these questions as they arise is a point of pride for us at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS); we’ve been doing so since 1955. 

In this article, we will answer yet another OD freight-shipping question: When will I need pilot/escort cars to move my cargo?

Escort cars are fundamental to keeping roadways and the motoring public safe during OD freight moves. Without them, serious issues like property damage, personal injury or, in the worst case, loss of life could occur. 

Should your freight legally require pilots/escorts, arranging them is non-negotiable. 

To make sure you get everything lined up correctly and you understand what’s actually required of you, below you’ll find out:

What Are Pilot Cars?

Pilot cars are safety vehicles that drive ahead of and/or behind an oversized freight shipment. Although the number of pilot cars a shipment needs depends on a number of factors, these vehicles function to warn the motoring public when they are in the vicinity of an oversized shipment

But this is not their only role. Namely, pilot car drivers communicate with each other and the truck driver to ensure a shipment’s seamless transport. Lead pilot cars, for example, are responsible for warning the truck driver when something on the road poses a risk to the freight.  

The number and kind of pilot cars needed for a given shipment changes situationally. Over-height shipments, in some instances, will require pole cars — a type of pilot car fixed with an extendable pole on the front — to ensure visible clearance of the loaded height prior to the truck and load passing underneath.

The terms “pilot” and “escort” are often used interchangeably. However, “escort” is also commonly used to describe the police vehicles and personnel that are sometimes required to “escort” freight along its route. 

Most typically, police escorts are required when cargo is transported through a city or is incredibly large — edging above 15 feet wide. It is possible to need both private pilot cars and police escorts in some circumstances

When Are Pilot Cars and/or Escort Vehicles Required For Your Shipment?

It is not possible to definitively say whether your shipment will need pilots/escorts without the right information. Each area makes these discernments individually, taking into account the size of your freight, the roadway you’re traveling, the time of year and more. 

Generally speaking, however, you can expect to need pilot cars when a shipment exceeds 12 feet wide, the loaded height exceeds 14 feet, 6 inches high and/or the total length exceeds 90 feet.

Pilot Car With Oversized Load on HighwayTo get more granular, here is a state-by-state breakdown of the pilot/escort car requirements in most U.S states based on. . .

Each state has requirements for the number and location of escort vehicles needed when a load exceeds length, width or height pre-set thresholds. The charts below define these regulations in a very general way and should be interpreted as such. 

Make sure to consult a trusted transportation provider for more information on your specific situation. 

Additionally, the escort requirements below represent what is necessary for a singular dimension. If, for example, your shipment exceeds a state’s height and length regulations, the total number of escorts required will change accordingly.

Width Requirements for Escorts By State

Width Requirements for Escort Cars in Each State

Height Requirements for Escort Cars By State

Escort Car Requirements for Height in Each State

Length Requirements for Escort Cars By State

Escorts Required In Each State for Width on Two Lane Road

Escorts Required In Each State for Width on Four Lane Road

How to Get Escort Cars Arranged For Your Shipments

Lining up civilian escorts for your oversized/overweight freight shipments doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, in most cases you won’t need to arrange this on your own; many great transportation providers have relationships with pilot car service providers

In the majority of instances — provided your transportation company has experience servicing these moves — they will be able to help you here. 

Whether it’s an in-house pilot car service team or a robust list of area/regional/national providers, trucking companies have trusted (and tested) pilot car operators. 

Arranging police/peace officer escorts for those instances when it's necessary will mean giving your carrier a bit of advanced notice. Police escorts can sometimes be difficult to arrange on short notice. 

Area law enforcement officers have important duties — outside of escorting freight — to attend to each day. This, coupled with the unpredictability of their jam-packed schedules, can make locking down a couple of police escorts challenging. 

This will, once again, be easier to accomplish with a seasoned transportation company in your corner. These companies will have ongoing relationships with the necessary authorities and the ability to match your needs with the capabilities of local law enforcement. 

What do Civilian and Police Escorts Cost? 

To secure escort services for your freight, expect to pay an elevated rate per mile. The exact dollar amount you pay will be determined by a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Your cargo’s length of haul
  • The size of your shipment
  • Supply and demand in your origin/destination locations
  • The time of year and weather 
  • The amount of lead time you’re able to provide

With all of this, and more, considered, paying an extra $2 per mile for escort services is not out of the question. That said, for a more accurate representation of how escorts will affect your freight rates, consult a great transportation provider. 

Related: What Does Heavy Haul Trucking Cost?


Wait! There’s More To Learn About Oversized Shipping!

Now that you have a better understanding of when escorts are generally required based on a shipment’s width, height and length, let’s take this conversation a step further. 

It is also possible for escorts to be required for freight overhang. Once again, if your oversized load needs them, arranging pilot services can’t be avoided. 

Check out this article which explains how much overhang is allowed on open-deck trailers to round out your knowledge on what’s required for your OD freight. 

Finally, if you would like to learn more about how ATS can help you get your OD freight moving legally and efficiently, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our specialized open deck and heavy haul transportation teams are ready to help you manage even the most complex of freight moves. 

Tags: Heavy Haul Shipping, Oversized Shipping, Project Logistics, Heavy Haul Trucking, Over Dimensional Shipping, Project Shipping

Amy Studanski

Written by Amy Studanski

Amy started her career at ATS in 2005 as a settlements specialist in ATS' vans division. More recently, Amy has held positions in multiple areas of the ATS' permitting department coordinating everything from open-deck and heavy haul shipments to wind blade moves and wind tower projects. Today, Amy is the wind project coordinator for ATS, a job where she enjoys pushing her limits and learning new things to help customers succeed in a really complex space.

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