Driver Knowledge Tests

Tips for driving a forklift on the road

It’s possible to drive a forklift on the road, but the driver must hold a current car driver’s licence (as well as the required high-risk work licence), and the forklift must be registered. This grants the forklift limited road access to perform specific functions (e.g. you can’t use it to commute). The forklift must be roadworthy and not be a danger to other road users.

However, forklift operators must be aware of the differences between driving a forklift on the road and in a more controlled environment such as a warehouse. In other countries, forklift operators must do specific on-road forklift training. For example, in New Zealand, there is an F endorsement and operator’s certificate course that covers this.

Why is driving a forklift on the road more dangerous than in a warehouse?

Warehouse and factory floors are usually nice and smooth. Racks will be laid out with consistent spacing, the lighting and atmosphere are relatively consistent, and often there are barriers separating pedestrian traffic. On a road, this is not the case.

Road surface

The driving area on the road will be uneven because of camber, kerbs, potholes, drains, manhole covers, poor-quality repairs, speed bumps and cat’s eyes.

Roads usually slope towards the gutter and kerb so that water doesn’t pool on the road. This means that a forklift will always be driving on a slight lean. This isn’t a major issue if the road is smooth and the forklift isn’t heavily laden, but if it is carrying a load which has limited friction (e.g. metal plates), and is wide (which amplifies sideways movement), even small bumps can flick the load to one side, gradually unbalancing it.

When driving across a dropped kerb onto the road, this can create sideways forces on the load which tip the load over, could cause one or both of the forks to hit the road surface, or could shift the load.

Anything on the road’s surface which causes a change in angle of the forklift is something that a forklift driver should be wary of.

Weather and climate

The overall climate can affect a driver’s visibility, judgement and comfort:

  • Many forklifts don’t have an enclosed cab, so extremes of heat can cause sun stroke, sunburn and dehydration. Extremes of cold can cause numbness and lack of dexterity when operating the controls.
  • High winds are a danger when lifting wide, flat loads.
  • Sun strike when lifting loads makes it difficult to accurately position the forks.
  • Low light levels also makes it difficult to accurately position the forks, and also causes risks of other road users colliding with the forklift.
  • Slippery surfaces increase braking distances and can cause issues with cornering. In some cases, it can cause issues with traction when the forklift doesn’t have much of a load (most of the weight is over the steering wheels in this case)
  • Puddles can hide deep potholes.
  • Driving rain can soak an operator, making them impatient to get the job done.

Road users

The forklift should have lights and a flashing beacon. The driver should comply with the road rules (e.g. indicating turns, and giving way in accordance with the give way rules). However, forklifts have three characteristics that can confuse other road users:

  1. The forks themselves are very difficult to see when they are not carrying a load. This puts road users at risk who drive, ride or walk into them
  2. Forklifts don’t travel very quickly and often have to travel in reverse if carrying something that obscures the driver’s vision
  3. Forklifts might be using the path to load into or out of a truck parked on the road, and this is an unusual thing for pedestrians, who are frequently distracted by their smartphones.

Forklift drivers should keep their forks low and assume that other road users don’t know they are there.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Posted in Advice