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What Is a Height Pole?

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What Is a Height Pole or Hi-pole?

A height pole or high pole, or hi-pole, is a measuring device that is precisely attached to the front of a pilot car vehicle. It’s used to measure the height of overhead obstructions during the transport of over-dimensional (tall) shipments by oversize trucking companies. North American states and provinces have laws regulating and mandating when a height pole is required to transport over-height shipments within their jurisdiction. To comply with these pre-determined requirements, trucking companies must determine if the shipment they wish to transport will require a height pole pilot car or a lead escort vehicle with a height pole installed before applying for an oversize trucking permit.

pilot car truck equipped with a height pole.

Pilot Car With Height Pole Attached

The photograph illustrated here is a typical example of what a pilot car vehicle might appear like when equipped with a height pole.  You can see the measuring device affixed to the front of the vehicle as it is very tall. A height pole is made out of sections of fiberglass that are adjustable to meet the requirements of each state/province the shipment will be passing through. The height pole will be adjusted to a height 6 inches (or 15.24 centimeters) taller than the shipment when loaded onto the shipping trailer. Then once the actual transport of the item takes place, the pilot car equipped with the height pole will proceed in front of the over-dimensional (tall) load being transported. Suppose a driver of the pilot car equipped with the height pole (hi-pole or high pole) hears the fiberglass height pole hit any obstructions in the path of the shipment. In that case, the operator will immediately notify the driver of the truck transporting the shipment informing of the obstruction to prevent any damage to the shipment or the obstruction. When a height pole is mounted correctly to the escort vehicle, it’s connected to the frame. If the height pole does happen to strike any objects, the sound heard by the pilot car is loud and distinct, thus alerting the driver of the obstruction. As recently as 2015, over 169 million dollars in overhead obstruction damages were caused during that single year in the United States alone. So having these safety measures in place is most definitely in the best interest of everyone. From the taxpayer to the safety of the motorists, the shipment’s owner being transported, and the transportation company.

The Importance of Installing a Height Pole Correctly

There’s no such thing as cutting corners when installing a height pole on your pilot car. It’s crucial it’s directly connected to the frame of your pilot car for two reasons:

  • Ensure it’s sturdy, stable, and not going to fall off of your vehicle.
  • So you can hear the sound it makes if it hits an obstruction. It must be attached to the frame.

For the pilot car vehicle operator to properly hear the sound created by the height pole if an obstruction is hit, the device must be properly and securely mounted to the vehicle in such a manner that the bracket holding it is connected to the frame of the pilot car vehicle. Therefore, to obtain the highest quality from installing this device, you may wish to make sure you are not adding sub-supports for your height pole when designing your attachment method.

Suggested Methods of Attaching a Height Pole

While there are many different ways to install a height pole on your pilot car vehicle, we strongly suggest you locate a heavy-duty bumper grill made from heavy tubing, as you might see on law enforcement vehicles. If you can locate a front bumper/grill protector attachment, you then have a few options:

  • The first would be to cut the top portion of the bumper guard off so your height pole can easily slide in/out of the pole. Then, make sure you devise a method that locks it in no matter how you decide to attach it.
  • The second option would be to locate a small piece of pipe the base of the height pole snugly fits into and weld this onto the bumper grill attachment.

That will require some planning, designing, and fabricating to weld the pipe in place, so it stands perfectly vertical but well worth it if you wish to work with over-height shipments.

The bumper grill works so well because it usually connects with two bolts to your vehicle. The tubing these are constructed out of is not only heavy-duty but very close, if not the same as the base of most height poles. So not only do it properly but efficiently as well.

Why Is It So Important to Connect High Poles to the Frame of Pilot Car Vehicles?

High-quality sounds must be made if the pole hits any obstructions. You want to consider all of the other noises when you are operating your pilot car vehicle. You’ve got the sound of your engine, the sound of tires on the road, and 2-way radio chatter. Other sounds, such as sirens, trains, airplanes, etc., are frequent. Because the height pole is so important, make sure if it does strike something overhead, it makes a loud sound. That will instantly alert the operator by being indistinguishable from other sounds or background noises.

2 Responses

    1. I’m pretty sure absolutely not.

      After considering this at length as I’ve never heard this request before in my 30 years of service. Interesting question. Every state/provincial law I have read that mentions the mounting of a “height pole” specifically says something to the effect of “mounted to the front of the vehicle” then some of them even continue to state something like “connected to frame member” of the vehicle.

      So obviously the first idea considered is the loud sound upon any contact. Second, visual acknowledgement of the way the pole behaves if contact is made is significant to the process. There may be special circumstances that would require this but you would want to be certain you had a permit issued by the governing body before considering actually doing it.

      I am bound to mention the first and primary job of any type of pilot vehicle is to protect the safety of motorists.

      But let’s say with no live load even and performing only a route survey for overhead obstructions only. I’m certain they’d say “NO” and here is one reason why: about a year ago I read some published data on the total amount of overhead obstruction damages that occurred in 2016 (this was not a government publication) within the USA. The number was around 83 million dollars in damages. I’m guessing it was based on insurance claims and property damage reports. Bridges, wires, traffic control poles, lights, signs, pedestrian bridges, etc. Again this supports a “NO” answer unless special circumstances for some reason required this specific set up.

      You can contact the state/provinces you are considering operating in direct here in order to get official confirmation. The DOT office numbers are on the lower left of each state trucking/pilot car regulations page.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Michael Rader

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