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Safety tips for driving a forklift on the road

How to make your forklift road legal

The forklift must be registered with DVLA, which you can do with a form V55/4 (new forklifts) or V55/5 (used forklifts). There’s a registration fee and a licence fee.

Approval means that the forklift can carry goods between private premises within the ‘immediate vicinity’, which is defined in DVLA guidance as a distance not exceeding 1000 yards.

The forklift must be roadworthy. That means that any lights and indicators must function, the tyres are in good condition, it’s not belching black smoke from the exhaust, and it doesn’t cause a danger to other road users.

It will need an amber flashing beacon.

What qualifications do you need?

You must have a full UK driving licence and have passed a forklift operator course. There’s no requirement for a specific licence endorsement. For example in some other countries, you must do a specific course for driving a forklift on the road.

How to drive a forklift on the road

The forklift must be suitable to handle a range of conditions that are different to the controlled, smooth surface conditions found in a warehouse. In fact, many forklifts are unsuitable for driving on a road because of the type of tyres or their ground clearance won’t cope with kerbs, potholes, manhole covers, gutters, drains, speed bumps, and painted white lines.

Observe the Highway Code

Forklift operators must observe the same road rules as other road users. This means signalling turns, and giving way when required. Lights must be used when visibility dictates so. As forklifts are slow, drivers should stay to the left of the lane to make it easy for other road users to overtake, but should be careful of grates and gutters that would unbalance the forklift. Be especially careful given that the forklift has rear-wheel steering.

Watch for road conditions

The road’s camber (slope) will affect load stability, especially if the road is bumpy; the bumps can jolt the load. Consider strapping the load to the forks if this is the case, or only lifting palletised loads which are strapped to the pallet.

Wet roads can make for slippery road markings and metal grates, and puddles can hide deep potholes – avoid driving through standing water, if possible.

Watch for weather conditions:

  • Snow and ice make the road surface slippery, and can cause discomfort, slower reaction and less dexterity for the operator.
  • High temperatures can cause sunburn and discomfort for operators of forklifts that have an open cab.
  • Driving rain is also unpleasant for forklifts with an open cab; for those with a closed cab, heavy rain affects visibility, and may also affect the goods on the forklift
  • Windy conditions can cause additional pressure on the load, leading to a great risk of the load tipping off the forks, or the forklift tipping over.
  • Gloomy, overcast conditions reduce visibility – use lights to help other road users see.
  • Sunstrike can obscure other road users, and make it difficult to lift or place goods accurately.

Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians

Other road users don’t see forklifts frequently and may not know how to drive around them.

Cyclists and motorcyclists are at greatest risk. They are travelling at speed and will find it difficult to see the forks, especially if they are raised with nothing on them. Always keep your forks low to the ground.

Pedestrians are frequently distracted and won’t expect a forklift’s forks to be across a pathway. Use your horn to warn them or, better still, put out cones or barriers to increase your visibility to them.

5 tips for driving a forklift on the road

To recap, here are the main points:

  1. Stay visible using lights, high-vis clothing and a flashing beacon
  2. Assume that you have not been seen by other road users
  3. Defer your work if the weather is bad or if there’s too much traffic to do it safely (even with a spotter)
  4. Watch out for imperfections in the road’s surface
  5. Make sure your forklift is roadworthy and legal for the road.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

Posted in Advice