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MODULE 1: Course Introduction and Industry Background


Welcome to the pilot/escort vehicle operator (P/EVO) training course. This course is designed to prepare individuals to fulfill pilot/escort duties safely and effectively. It includes an overview of the pilot/escort industry, requirements for P/EVOs and their vehicles, procedures for escorting oversize loads, elements of route planning, issues of driver safety, and many important related topics.

The course promotes and facilitates understanding of the regulations, duties, and responsibilities of P/EVOs and provides practical information on such issues as safe maneuvering and vehicle positioning, typically required equipment and its uses, and examples of the substantial variance in rules governing P/EVOs from State to State.

The course also includes a large number of sources of information about State rules and regulations, best practices, guideline documents, and other relevant source materials. These sources are important for three reasons:

  1. Learning how to be a P/EVO is similar to most other professions: individuals learn how to do the job primarily by doing it, but they must start with a basic understanding of the job. This is a primary purpose for certification courses: to learn the laws and rules that apply to pilot/escort vehicle operation in the certifying State. Once certified, P/EVOs are responsible for knowing the relevant laws and rules in all the States in which the P/EVOs will escort oversize loads.
  2. While it is not possible to learn everything about being a P/EVO in a one- day course, it is possible to gain adequate knowledge about the sources of information needed to operate lawfully and safely from State to State.
  3. These sources — and how to locate and use the information — enable the P/EVO to keep up-to-date with changes in the rules over time, which is one of the most onerous tasks the P/EVO must accomplish.

There are very few Federal rules that govern escort operations, so as a matter of public safety, P/EVO regulations are established by each individual State, and States have substantially different approaches to the permitting and regulation of oversize load movement. Variations exist among States in defining situations in which escorts are required, determining how many escorts are required under certain conditions, and establishing the types of equipment and signs the P/EVO must have, among many others. It is the responsibility of the P/EVO to know the laws of each State through which the escorted load moves, just as it is for drivers with a commercial driver's license (CDL) or a basic driver's license.


Across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and in many other countries, P/EVOs are required for the movement of oversize loads, and for all the differences among the States in the regulation of these loads, the purposes for P/EVOs are substantially consistent from place to place. P/EVOs are in place to enhance the safety of roadway users, to protect transportation infrastructure, the load driver, the load, as well as the P/EVOs themselves and law enforcement escorts when required.

The number of permits issued for oversize loads increases every year. It is apparent that more P/EVOs, including those with specialized skills such as height pole operation, will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Pilot/Escort Vehicle Operator Industry Safety Efforts

The P/EVO industry has difficulties similar to other transportation-related entities in terms of safety programs, such as a lack of funding to support education and enforcement efforts; a lack of coordination among groups, both public and private, that would benefit from working together; and a lack of standards in even the most basic operational processes and equipment requirements. Efforts at better State to State harmonization are being made by organizations including, among others:

  • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
  • American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and regional subsidiary groups: Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, Southeastern Association of State Transportation Officials, Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials.
  • Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA).
  • Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).
  • Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).
  • Insurance industry representatives.

Standardizing the safety equipment requirements for P/EVOs and/or insurance and certification requirements, for example, would benefit highway users, States, P/EVOs, and carriers. One example of a current standardization effort is the voluntary adoption by many States of the temporary traffic control requirements for flagging and equipment found in the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices.1 As a matter of safety, it is important that P/EVOs performing traffic control procedures have similar appearance and use the same equipment and methods regardless of where they may be controlling traffic. With the exception of driving in front of a very large heavy load (a load that cannot maneuver or stop quickly), flagging traffic is perhaps the most dangerous activity a P/EVO is required to perform. It is appropriate, therefore, that traffic control procedures and equipment be standardized in order for highway users to know and understand those procedures.

An important example of an area related to oversize load movement that needs to be better standardized is railroad crossings. Similar to P/EVO operations and requirements, railroad-highway crossings and the rules and standards applying to them vary from State to State. Better coordination among railroad companies, highway designers, maintenance personnel, and others could bring about joint warning signal inspections, integrated track and highway maintenance processes, and—highly relevant for P/EVOs and oversize/overweight load drivers and carriers—designating problematic crossings for special permit vehicles. In addition, coordination in setting standards, designing crossings, and reporting emergencies would benefit not only highway users and taxpayers but also the railroads and the States, carriers, load drivers, and P/EVOs.2

A general lack of information about the escort industry is a further impediment to developing and managing standards and, therefore, to harmonizing P/EVO requirements among the States. P/EVO duties and responsibilities, required equipment, insurance requirements, and other rules differ widely from State to State. No formal national certification process exists in the pilot/escort vehicle operator industry, unlike commercial driver certification (i.e., CDL holders).3 CDLs (as well as basic operator's licenses) are accepted in all States, in part because of the standardization of training and testing in these programs.4 The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has developed a model CDL training manual that most States have adopted with a few adjustments to reflect specific State laws and rules.5 This training manual and related materials are designed to address this need to better standardize and enhance training for P/EVOs.

Escorting oversize loads requires skill and awareness similar to that of emergency vehicle operators, tow truck drivers, roadside mechanics, and others who perform dangerous roadside operations. P/EVOs are frequently required, for example, to control traffic during the movement of oversize loads—typically a planned procedure, but the need for controlling traffic is also required in unplanned situations. Planned situations involve closing a narrow bridge or stopping traffic when the load vehicle is blocking lanes of traffic. Unplanned situations occur when the load vehicle becomes disabled or weather or traffic conditions prohibit the load from moving. In this latter situation, P/EVOs may be required to control traffic regardless of weather conditions or curfew restrictions; the P/EVO must be prepared to flag traffic in the unplanned situation; e.g., after dark, in inclement weather, with or without a shoulder or lighting present, or for an extended period of time.

Industry Evolution and the Lack of Uniformity

During the past few decades, various State and Federal agencies, professional associations, task forces, P/EVO operators, carriers, and others have made many recommendations about P/EVO regulations. A common recommendation among these groups is that States should develop consistent certification programs for escort vehicle drivers that include training exercises in railroad crossing safety, height pole operation, route surveys, traffic control, and in highway procedures across multiple contexts; e.g., various types of roadways and with loads of differing sizes and configurations.

Another common recommendation is that State permit offices should ensure that P/EVOs be certified and required to maintain adequate insurance coverage. To date, these recommendations have not been implemented.6

Rules related to railroad crossings remain an area of concern to those involved in the movement of oversize loads. In March 1994, an "On Guard" safety guidance document, published by the Federal Highway Administration, warned that truck- tractor and trailer rigs can become stalled on railroad tracks. The group cautioned oversize load drivers to approach tracks slowly enough to stop if a train is detected and urged drivers whose trucks have low ground clearances to refrain from taking chances at high-profile grade crossings. However, drivers are not only continuing to stall and become lodged at highway-rail crossings, they continue to be hit by trains.7

Purpose and Role of Escorts in Warning the Motoring Public

Many times passenger vehicles under-ride large trucks.8 This is one example of how escorts can improve safety: P/EVOs warn motorists approaching from the rear that these large and frequently slow-moving vehicles are on the road and do everything possible ensure highway users do not collide with the load, drive under the trailer, or become involved in a small-overlap collision when drivers try to steer around a big load when left with inadequate stopping distance.

Deaths in Large Truck Crashes

The need for better standards and more training is clear given that the decreasing number of deaths in large truck crashes appears to be more closely related to the growing safety of passenger vehicles rather than to any changes in truck safety or truck driver behavior.9

In 2013, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute, a disturbing trend emerged: the number of people who died in large truck crashes was 14 percent higher than in 2009, when it was lower than in any year since collection of fatal crash data began in 1975. The number of truck occupants who died in 2013 was 31 percent higher than in 2009.

"Large trucks are involved 1 in 10 highway deaths"

—Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Large Trucks Fatality Facts 2013

IIHS reports 3,602 people died in crashes involving large trucks in 2013. Of these, 16 percent were truck occupants; 67 percent were passenger vehicle occupants; and 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists. Large trucks were involved in 11 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths and 23 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes. In addition, 60 percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2013 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways; 30 percent occurred on interstates and freeways, and 10 percent occurred on minor roads.

Data indicates that 51 percent of fatal collisions involving a truck occurred between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., compared with 30 percent of crash deaths not involving large trucks. In collisions involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck, 97 percent of the deaths were occupants of the passenger vehicle.10

These and similar statistics contribute to the primary reason for escorts to be in place: to warn approaching motorists of the presence of large loads.

The transportation of oversize loads is growing, and the specialized individuals who handle moving these loads are central to successful and safe operations. It is vital that the people working to move these loads are well trained and capable of performing the job safely. Highly skilled P/EVOs are needed to assist carriers with the safe movement of oversize loads of all kinds, on all kinds of roadways, and in all kinds of conditions.

Regulation of Trucks and Drivers

Prior to 1992, according to the IIHS Highway Loss Data Institute, many States had weak training, testing and licensing standards for drivers of large trucks. Since 1992, Federal laws have been put in place establishing requirements and standards for testing, licensing, and health requirements for issuing all commercial driver's licenses. In addition, a national database of all CDL holders is in place in order to monitor traffic convictions, insurance status, health check status, and other information to ensure CDL holders are qualified and physically capable of driving large trucks safely. Many, including P/EVOs themselves, have recommended P/EVOs should have similar systems in place.

Agencies in the Federal government that oversee regulation of large trucks, oversize loads, and escort operations include the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), especially the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the FHWA.

In addition to government agencies and the organizations already mentioned, several professional associations are involved in efforts to standardize P/EVO requirements and harmonize State rules. These organizations include the SC&RA, and the CVSA, and the OOIDA, among others. As mentioned, most aspects of pilot/escort operations are controlled by individual States, and the States vary widely in what they require of not only the P/EVO, but also the escort vehicle and required equipment.

Role of Pilot/Escort Vehicle Operators

The professional P/EVO provides protection for highway users, transportation infrastructure, and the load. P/EVOs perform a safety-sensitive function and are an integral component of many oversize vehicle movements. For these reasons, the P/EVO must be well trained and qualified.

As mentioned, States vary substantially in their approaches to P/EVO operation. Arizona, for example, considers the following criteria when deciding whether escort vehicles are required:

  • Roadway dynamics, including surface condition, grade, width, and height limitations.
  • Overall dimensions of the vehicle and load.
  • Need for frequent stops.
  • Concern for public safety.
  • Time of transport.11

Regardless of the State or the criteria used, when the job is done well, P/EVOs assist not only in reducing fatalities and injuries, but also in preventing damage to transportation infrastructure, including bridges, signs, and guardrails; and in preventing damage to the load, the load vehicle, the escort vehicle, and all other vehicles on the roadway.

Reasons for Pilot/Escort Vehicle Operator Certification

In order for P/EVOs to do the job well, they must be properly trained for their responsibilities. The five primary reasons for P/EVO training and certification are to:

  • Enhance the safety of:
    • All roadway users.
    • The load driver.
    • The escort operator.
  • Prevent damage to:
    • Transportation infrastructure.
    • The load being transported.
    • The load vehicle.
    • The escort vehicle.
  • Prevent or minimize delays to normal flow of traffic.
  • Reduce accident and loss rates.
    • To reduce public costs of replacing transportation infrastructure.
    • To reduce insurance costs.
    • To enhance the profession.
  • Standardize the escort industry.

P/EVOs provide extra measures of safety and assist in preventing damage in many ways, including warning oncoming motorists of the presence of an oversize load, notifying the load driver of conditions that warrant special attention, and minimizing delays to normal traffic flow.

Warning oncoming motorists about the oversize load becomes increasingly important in the face of congested roadways, features of the terrain such as hills and curves, and distracted drivers, to name just a few potential hazards. In addition, notifying load drivers of hazards is an important P/EVO responsibility because minimizing deaths, injuries, and property damage are important goals for all road users.

Traffic tie-ups are rich environments for collisions with vehicles and infrastructure as well as contributing to aggressive—and unsafe—driver behaviors. As frustration grows, motorists increasingly engage in unsafe driving behaviors. Knowing how and when to react to the demands of traffic situations is critical to the safe movement of oversize loads.

Professionalism in the Industry

Perhaps more than rules and regulations, it is the values of carriers, professional organizations, or informal groups of P/EVOs that have more influence on the safety behaviors in a given profession. Professional P/EVOs are an internal culture operating within the broader commercial transportation culture. Enhancing a culture of competence, service, safety, and pride within that culture provides substantial benefits not only to highway users generally but to the transportation industry in particular. The qualified P/EVO is an integral part of the oversize load movement team, and he or she is necessary to protect the traveling public.

P/EVOs must be prepared to execute their responsibilities with skill and competence. Internal organizational and individual influences can affect safety in a positive or negative direction. It is of vital importance that safe practices be displayed and adopted in the movement of oversize loads for the benefit of the general population and the transportation industry.

P/EVOs are ambassadors for their own industry and, by extension, the heavy haul industry in general. For this reason, P/EVOs must be courteous in their interactions with the public and enforcement officers as well as with load drivers and other escorts.


This manual is useful both as a training text and as a reference guide during oversize load movements. It provides practical and realistic guidance on a broad range of issues likely to arise in the movement of oversize loads.

The manual is divided into eight modules. First is this course overview and information in the next lesson about the history, origins, and current state of the escort industry. Module 2 includes typical State requirements for P/EVOs and the pilot/escort vehicle. The focus of Module 3 is route planning and conducting a route survey, along with information about enforcement and inspection activities.

Module 4 deals with pre-trip activities. Before starting the trip, it is important for the safe movement of the oversize load that a pre-trip safety meeting be conducted. Issues that should be discussed in the safety meeting, as well as elements of an effective pre-trip walk-around inspection, are presented. Module 5, by far the largest module, includes information about actual P/EVO operations during the trip, including the role of the P/EVO in various situations, the proper use of required and/or suggested equipment, the positioning of the escort vehicle during typical operations, elements of safe traffic control operations, issues involving railroad crossings, and a section about emergency and accident procedures.

Module 6 includes post-trip activities including equipment issues, reviewing the trip, and the benefits of producing and maintaining trip logs. Driver safety issues are presented in Module 7, including information about driver distractions, driver fatigue, aggressive driving, and safety technologies. Finally, Module 8 includes a comprehensive review of the material presented in the course, and brief instructions for submitting the course evaluation and other typical paperwork.

The Certification Examination

At the end of the course, participants must take and pass a 40-question multiple choice exam in order to become certified. All major points covered in the course will be mentioned multiple times during the day, as well during the comprehensive review mentioned above, conducted immediately prior to the exam. Typically, students are required by the various States to score at least 75 percent to pass the examination, though some States require a minimum grade of 80 percent. Students are not allowed to use books or notes during the exam.

If a student does not pass the exam on the first attempt, States have differing provisions for re-taking the exam. Some States allow students to retake the exam within a specified time frame at no charge. If the student does not earn a passing score on the retake, the student must attend the class again, in many States, and pay all or a portion of the regular course fee. If the second retake is unsuccessful, one final opportunity is extended to the student by some States. In order to take the third retake, the student is often required to attend the course again (for the third time), and pay all or some portion of the regular course fee. This third retake is the last opportunity to become a certified P/EVO in most States.


  1. Is P/EVO certification valid in all 50 states?
  2. What are the primary reasons for certifying P/EVOs?
  3. What is the essential purpose for having P/EVOs in place?
  4. Why do laws pertaining to escort drivers differ from State to State?
  5. Who issues P/EVO certification cards?

1 Federal Highway Administration, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Part 6. Available at: The FHWA has incorporated by reference the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD, pursuant to 23 CFR 655.601(d)(2). [ Return to note 1. ]

2 U.S. Department of Transportation, "Accidents That Shouldn't Happen: A Report of the Grade Crossing Safety Task Force to Secretary Federico Pena," March 1, 1996, p. 9. Available at: [ Return to note 2. ]

3 Though many P/EVOs have a CDL, a CDL is not typically required for P/EVOs. [ Return to note 3. ]

4 A driver seeking a CDL must pass both knowledge and skill tests. [ Return to note 4. ]

5 American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, Model Commercial Driver License Manual (AAMVA, July 2014). Available at: [ Return to note 5. ]

6 The Federal Highway Administration maintains a list of all State permit offices (as well as Canadian provinces) that includes websites and telephone numbers. Available at: [ Return to note 6. ]

7 U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Motor Carriers, Federal Highway Administration, On Guard, Vol. 25, No. 1, December 1995. [ Return to note 7. ]

8 See Module 7, Lesson 5. [ Return to note 8. ]

9 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Fatality Facts web page, "Large Trucks, 2013." Available at: [ Return to note 9. ]

10 Ibid. [ Return to note 10. ]

11 Arizona Administrative Code, "Title 17. Transportation, Chapter 6. Department of Transportation Overdimensional Permits Arizona, Article 3. Safety Requirements, section R17-6-305. Escort Vehicles." Available at: [ Return to note 11. ]

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