Driving A forklift on The Road

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Forklift trucks are often required to drive on the road, if only for a short distance when unloading trucks that can’t access a property, or when moving between sites. Obviously you wouldn’t drive a forklift as a daily driver – there’s no suspension, they are slow, and they have terrible handling and fuel economy. Plus, they are quite dangerous for other drivers.

Qualifications required

The first thing you’ll need when driving a forklift on the road is the correct qualification. In some countries, all you need is a driver licence of the right class for the weight of the forklift, but you might need a special endorsement on your driver licence, such as an F endorsement. To get that, you must successfully pass an F endorsement course.

Considerations when driving on the road

Other road users’ expectations

Other road users will see the forklift (usually they are fairly brightly coloured and have flashing lights), but they might not see the forks themselves. There are countless examples of drivers driving into the forks of a forklift because they are unlit thin blades of metal that stick out in front of the forklift truck. 

Pedestrians are also at risk as they won’t necessarily expect a forklift on the road or footpath.

Weather

Some forklifts come with a fully enclosed cab and therefore the driver is not exposed to the elements, but many smaller forklifts simply have a rollover protection structure or cage to protect the driver in a rollover, but don’t have doors or a windscreen. This can make operation challenging when it’s very hot or very cold, when there’s heavy rain or snow, or when there are strong winds.

When forklifts are operated in a warehouse, drivers don’t have to consider the impact of wind on the load, but outside, strong wind can cause forces on the forklift that are enough to tip it over. This can happen when the forklift is carrying a load that has a large flat area exposed to the wind, and the forklift is lifting it high.

Braking

Forklifts do not have amazing brakes, especially when carrying a heavy load. A car in front of a forklift can stop much more quickly. Plus, on the road, the hazards are more variable than in a warehouse. There’s also the risk that the load will fall off the front of the forklift under heavy braking.

Camber, kerbs and uneven surfaces

Roads are sloped towards the gutters so that water drains off them rather than pooling in puddles that cause problems for drivers. This camber affects forklifts because it means that the load is leaning. Forklift drivers must be extra careful when turning with a load on a gradient.

Kerbs provide another danger point. Even small kerbs can unsettle a load. There are times when a forklift should cross a kerb diagonally, and times when it should cross straight onto the kerb. If the kerb is too high, there’s the risk the forklift can become stranded, and the same applies with gutters, depressions such as potholes, and bumps such as reflecting road markers (e.g. cat’s eyes). Bear in mind that the forklift does not have suspension.

General advice for operating a forklift on the road

  • If the traffic is heavy, try to wait until it’s not heavy
  • If the visibility is poor, wait until visibility improves
  • Use cones and barriers to mark out your work area and make it more visible to other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers
  • Use flashing beacons and lights to improve your visibility to other road users
  • If the weather causes additional danger, wait until it clears up
  • Use a spotter to help you with any tricky manoeuvring
  • Ensure you have the right qualifications for driving on the road
  • Ensure that your forklift is roadworthy and has any necessary permits
  • Keep speeds low and stay near the edge of the road so that other road users can pass
  • Take extra care when crossing footpaths and cycle lanes
  • Ensure that you understand what a ‘road’ is – some countries treat roads as anywhere the public has right to drive (or cross over), and this includes rights-of-way, car parks, wharves, footpaths, railway crossings, grass verges and even river beds!