How To Become a Pilot Car Driver in 5 Steps (Plus Duties)

Updated April 12, 2023

Pilot car drivers play an essential role in the transportation and construction industries. Their primary task is to ensure safety during the transportation of heavy loads. If you enjoy driving and want a career in the transportation industry, learning more about pilot car drivers and their responsibilities might be helpful.

In this article, we discuss what a pilot car driver is and what they do, how to become a pilot car driver and the job outlook for this career.

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What is a pilot car driver?

A pilot car driver guides large trucks as they transport heavy loads. These loads could include windmill blades, mobile homes, aircraft wings and other large objects. They act as escorts, ensuring that heavy vehicles avoid traffic, obstacles and other dangerous situations. Most pilot car drivers work alongside truckers in the shipping and freight industry, although they may also work in construction or at airports. In airports, a pilot car driver's main task is guiding aircraft while on the tarmac.

Related: 9 Careers in Transportation To Explore

What does a pilot car driver do?

Pilot car drivers can have various tasks, depending on their industry. These are some of the primary duties you might have as a pilot car driver:

  • Drives trucks and cars: Operating standard vehicles is the most basic task of pilot drivers. This requires them to have excellent driving skills and a driver's license.

  • Maintains safety: A pilot car driver's main priority is to protect truck drivers and other drivers on the road. This requires rigorous adherence to safety protocols and a dedication to safe driving practices.

  • Communicates with truck drivers: Pilot cars are equipped with radios that allow drivers to communicate with their escorts. Pilot car drivers require an understanding of radio etiquette and the ability to communicate clearly with their colleagues.

  • Operates lights and sirens: Most pilot cars have large lights and sirens to warn trucks of traffic and other obstacles.

  • Directs traffic: If a freight truck encounters traffic or other obstacles, the pilot driver may be responsible for exiting the car to direct traffic. They may warn other drivers that the truck is passing by or reroute the truck to avoid obstructions.

  • Uses other traffic safety equipment: In most states, pilot car drivers carry a set of safety tools and know how to operate them correctly. These items often include traffic cones, flares, flagging paddles and reflective traffic triangles.

  • Guides aircraft: Some pilot car drivers work in private, commercial or military airports. These drivers guide airplanes as they taxi on the runway.

Related: 5 Key Differences Between CDL vs. Non-CDL Driver's Licenses

How to become a pilot car driver

Career paths can vary and there are many different ways to become a pilot car driver. However, there are a few common requirements for individuals in this position. These are five steps on how to become a pilot car driver:

1. Finish high school

While a career as a pilot car driver doesn't require a college degree, finishing high school is a good idea. Alternatively, you can earn your GDE. This is the basic educational requirement for most jobs, including many pilot driver positions. If you already have a college degree, it might help you stand out, although it might not be a good investment if you plan to drive for a living.

Related: 12 Best-Paid Driving Jobs To Help You Advance Your Driving Career

2. Get a license

As transportation professionals, pilot car drivers require a valid driver's license. If you already have one, make sure it hasn't expired. If you need to earn a driver's license, you'll have to complete several hours of supervised driving and pass driving and vision tests, although the exact requirements vary by state. Many states require pilot drivers to have a class A, B or C commercial driver's license.

Once you have your license, make sure you drive safely to maintain a clean record. Pilot driving is all about safety, and employers are unlikely to hire candidates with a history of accidents, reckless driving or speeding tickets. Some states may even require you to complete a defensive driving course to help you drive safely.

Related: 18 Types of Driving Jobs (Plus Average Salaries)

3. Get certified

While not required in all states, some areas require pilot drivers to be certified. This may involve learning a specific set of rules and passing a test. These are the states that require pilot car drivers to complete certification before working:

  • Arizona

  • Colorado

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Louisiana

  • Minnesota

  • Nevada

  • New Mexico

  • New York

  • Oklahoma

  • Virginia

  • Washington

Related: 9 Driving Certification Programs and Endorsements For Commercial Driving

4. Learn the rules

All states have specific rules for pilot drivers, and it's vital to learn these regulations before you begin. Start by understanding what equipment to carry in your car and be sure you know how to use it. Some states also require periodic inspections, so check the rules in your area.

Related: Driving Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Get insurance

Pilot car drivers have to carry the right insurance when on the job. This can save them from enormous costs if they're involved in an accident or total their vehicle. In most states, pilot vehicles must at least have commercial auto coverage. Some areas also recommend general or professional liability coverage and personal injury protection.

Related: How To Write a Driving CV

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What's the job outlook for pilot car drivers?

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't collect information specifically on pilot car drivers, it does provide data on the transportation industry as a whole. This category encompasses pilot car drivers and other similar occupations that involve the transportation of people and goods. The BLS reports that employment in the transportation industry is expected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031, which translates to 861,800 new jobs. This increase is in line with the average for other occupations. The BLS also projects over 1.9 million job openings yearly, coming from industry growth and replacing employees who are changing jobs or retiring.

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