Are you looking for a career as a driver but don’t want to drive a truck? A pilot car driver may be a great fit for you. Pilot car drivers earn competitive salaries, and no two days are the same on the road. Let’s take a closer look at what a pilot car is, how much pilot car drivers are paid and how to become one.
A pilot car, or escort car, is a vehicle that follows or escorts a tractor-trailer hauling a wide or oversized load. Typically, escort cars are SUVs or pickup trucks, but cars can also be used for this purpose.
Pilot car drivers are specially trained for this type of driving, and they don’t normally work for the trucking company hauling the load. Often, these drivers are contracted to escort the load.
The pilot driver and truck driver work together to ensure that the load reaches its destination safely. Pilot cars travel either behind or in front of the truck to warn other motorists of obstacles or traffic changes. They also warn the trucker of obstacles ahead that may interfere with the load getting through safely.
Along with ensuring that the truck changes lanes or crosses bridges safely, the pilot cat also ensures that the truck does not violate any traffic laws.
Escort cars stand out on the roadway because they’re equipped with eye-catching flags, lights and signs that warn of the oversized load ahead. Drivers of these vehicles carry emergency equipment, maps, first aid kits and other items to deal with emergencies or other unforeseen situations that may arise.
For oversized loads that are very high, the pilot car will travel with height poles to measure clearance under bridges and other overhead obstacles.
When is a Pilot Car Needed?
A pilot car is needed whenever a truck is hauling an oversized load. What constitutes an oversized load is regulated at the state level. However, most states will require an escort car whenever a load is:
- 12-14 feet wide
- 80-100 feet long
A Pilot Car Driver’s Role and Responsibility
Pilot car drivers play an important role in the safe transport of oversized and wide loads. Their job is to:
- Prevent damage to highways, roads and roadway infrastructure
- Improve road safety for the truck and other motorists
- Help prevent accidents and minimize traffic delays
- Prevent cargo damage
- Temporarily lift or remove overhead obstacles, like signs or traffic lights
Pilot car drivers require special training and carry a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders. If you’re considering a career in this field, you may be wondering what the salary is and how to get started.
Annual Pilot Car Driver Salary
Pilot car service jobs pay well, but salaries can change drastically from industry to industry and state to state. For example, a listing in Durham, NC pays $76,000 to $96,000. Another position in Wyoming pays $15 – $18 an hour, or $31,200 to $37,440.
Averages for this position are $34,000 to $41,000.
Salaries can range from $19,500 to $51,000 for the most senior drivers. Companies may offer additional oversize load pilot car pay, such as profit sharing, tips and commission.
While most job listings pay per hour, other positions will pay per mile.
Benefits packages are often extensive, with many of the top employers offering:
- 401(k) retirement plans
- Paid holidays and time off
- Dental benefits
- Supplemental benefits
- Health insurance
- Employee stock ownership plans
If you’re interested in becoming a pilot car driver, the process to employment is straightforward. You may find yourself guiding rigs through oil fields or driving across the interstate.
How To Become a Pilot Car Driver
A career as a pilot car driver, or oversize escort, is often easy to transition into because you only need a valid driver’s license, a high school diploma and a GED. If you meet these requirements, you may then need to:
- Become certified (varies from state to state)
- Learn and adhere to state regulations
- Obtain the appropriate insurance
Most states do not require a certificate to drive a pilot car, but there are around a dozen that do, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington.
Some job listings will require their pilot car drivers to have a CDL, but these positions often pay higher wages.
You may be required to help with the loading and unloading of trailers. Due to the high demand for this position, it’s not uncommon for employers to offer training. If you’re up to the task, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to work as a pilot car driver across the United States.
Routes may be regional, but some positions will require you to be on the road for long periods of time and drive in the 48 contiguous states.
According to the Department of Transportation, escort vehicle drivers can also benefit from having the following credentials:
Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
Having a TWIC card is useful for escort vehicle drivers. Anyone who wants to enter the secure area of a port must have a TWIC card. Otherwise, they must be accompanied at all times by someone who does have a card.
A defensive driving course will not only help drivers develop the skills they need to prevent accidents but earn discounts on insurance. Some states will also require drivers to have a valid defensive driving certificate in order to operate.
Even if defensive driving isn’t required by the state, it’s a worthwhile investment for escort car drivers.
Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation and First Aid
CPR and first aid training become more important when you work in remote locations. You’ll find that bringing basic equipment with you, such as rescue masks and barriers, may even be required by an employer.
Flagger training may not be required in your state, but it is one of the certifications that can make you a more attractive hire.
If you want to enter a solid career with a lot of opportunities, consider a position as a pilot car driver.