In transportation terms, an oversize load is any load that exceeds standard or legal size and weight limits set by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Different portions of roads and highways have different standards. Examples of overweight loads include construction machines (like cranes), prefabricated homes, mobile homes, houseboats, bridge beams, and industrial equipment.
According to the FHWA, any load over 80,000 lbs gross weight per vehicle, 20,000 lbs per single axle, or 34,000 lbs per tandem axle is above the federally mandated maximum weight limit set in section 23 CFR Part 658.17 of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
Formula for calculating gross weight
One way to determine the gross weight of your load (which is not the same as its actual weight) is by using the following formula:
W = 500(LN/N-1 + 12N + 36)
Where W = overall gross weight, L = distance in feet between axles, and N = the number of axles.
The role of pilot cars
As overweight loads are transported to their destinations, pilot cars (also known as escort or flag cars) like the one above are used to safely escort the load and to warn other drives of the potential danger it poses. Pilot cars are also needed because often the load-bearing vehicle’s driver will not be able to safely see the road.
The lead pilot car typically follows a state trooper or local police vehicle, or a utility/bucket truck. A trailing pilot car may also be required to enforce a minimum safe distance for drivers behind the oversize load.
Pilot car drivers have the authority to stop the load for any reason, and to block traffic from passing the load.
Safely reaching the destination
If a permit has been obtained, a load has been checked against load weight limits, weather conditions are ideal, and pilot cars are ready to go, it should be a safe ride.
But some other things to consider include the route itself, as well as waypoints.
There are approximately 40,000 miles of U.S. highway permissible for oversize loads, so knowing which roads you can take is very important–and it’s just as important to make sure that you pass by weigh stations for weight compliance checks (and know where they are).
Applying for a permit
Of course, the most important part of safe heavy haul transportation over a long distance is to have the proper permit and training required to do so.
Because the FHWA does not award permits for oversize loads, but sets the safety standards, it requires that each state have its own permit guidelines. And, depending on the state, more than one permit may be needed.
In order to find out what permits you’ll need, contact the states in which you travel. Courtesy of the FHWA, the office numbers are below:
- Alabama 800-499-2782
- Alaska 907-365-1200
- Arizona 602-771-2960
- Arkansas 501-569-2381
- California 916-322-1297
- Colorado 800-350-3765
- Connecticut 860-594-2878
- Delaware 302-744-2700
- District of Columbia 202-442-4670
- Florida 850-410-5777
- Georgia 888-262-8306
- Hawaii 808-831-6712
- Idaho 208-334-8420
- Illinois 217-785-1477
- Indiana 317-615-7320
- Iowa 515-237-3264
- Kansas Special Permits 785-368-6501
- Kentucky 502-564-1257
- Louisiana 225-343-2345 or 800-654-1433
- Maine 207-624-9000, extension 52134
- Maryland 800-846-6435
- Massachusetts 781-431-5148
- Michigan 844-636-8373
- Minnesota 651-296-6000
- Mississippi 888-737-0061 or 601-359-1717
- Missouri 866-831-6277
- Montana 406-444-7262
- Nebraska 402-471-0034
- Nevada 800-552-2127
- New Hampshire 603-271-2691
- New Jersey 609-530-6089
- New Mexico 505-827-5540
- New York 518-485-2999 or 888-783-1685
- North Carolina 888-574-6683
- North Dakota 701-328-2621
- Ohio 614-351-2300
- Oklahoma 877-425-2390 or 405-425-7012
- Oregon 503-373-0000
- Pennsylvania 717-787-4680
- Rhode Island 401-946-0090
- South Carolina 877-349-7190
- South Dakota 888-978-7249
- Tennessee 615-741-3821
- Texas 800-299-1700, option 1
- Utah 801-965-4892
- Vermont 802-828-2064
- Virginia 804-249-5130
- Washington 360-704-6340
- West Virginia 304-558-0384
- Wisconsin 608-266-7320
- Wyoming 307-777-4376
- Alberta 800-662-7138
- British Columbia 800-559-9688
- Manitoba 204-945-3961 or 877-812-0009
- New Brunswick 888-762-8600
- Newfoundland/Labrador 709-729-0359
- Northwest Territories 867-984-3341
- Nova Scotia 902-424-5851
- Nunavut 867-975-5300
- Ontario 416-246-7166, extension 6300 or 800-387-7736
- Prince Edward Island (PDF, 1.25MB) 902-368-4291
- Quebec 418-527-7775 or 800-567-7775
- Saskatchewan 306-775-6969 or 800-667-7575
- Yukon Territory 867-667-5644 or 800-661-0408, extension 5644