Driving tests

What’s a spotter?

Spotters are used in the transport and construction industry when it’s difficult to manoeuvre a vehicle or an object. Examples include:

  • Reversing or coupling a heavy vehicle (e.g. semitrailer or truck and trailer)
  • Manoeuvring a forklift with a large load
  • Lifting or positioning a large load with a truck loader crane or other crane
  • Manoeuvring oversized vehicles on construction sites and in mining (for example, dumping spoil, directing earthmoving machinery, etc)

What does a spotter do?

A spotter uses a set of agreed-upon hand signals to tell the driver or crane operator what to do. There are standard signals suggested for crane operators, but for drivers, it’s usually discussed beforehand as there are many variations.

NATO has a set of standard hand signals for ground guides which are used by all NATO army units (i.e. for guiding military vehicles such as tanks which have very large blind spots).

The main signals a vehicle spotter will give are:

  • Stop (the most important one)
  • Turn left or right
  • Slow
  • Forwards
  • Backwards

The main signals a crane spotter will give are:

  • Stop
  • Raise the boom
  • Lower the boom
  • Left or right
  • Forwards or backwards

Spotters should wear hi-vis clothing. A two-way radio can help, but the idea of a spotter is to use hand signals.

Reversing or coupling a truck

The driver often has significant blind spots in mirrors and immediately behind the vehicle. A spotter will give the driver confidence they can continue to move without running into something.

A spotter helps a driver reverse a b-train towards a fence

Newer trucks have reversing cameras which somewhat remove the need for a spotter.

Manoeuvring with a forklift

A large load on a forklift will obscure the view of the driver when going forwards. Usually, the forklift driver will drive in reverse so that they can see where they are going, but to position the load in the right place (e.g. on the back of a truck or into a van), they may need a spotter to help.

A spotter helps the driver line up this shrinkwrapped pallet when placing it in the side door of a van

Lifting loads with a crane

Many cranes now have remote control units that enable the operator walk around the site and view the load as it’s being placed. But, there may be a need for a spotter if the load is being lifted to height, or if the operator can’t leave the crane (sometimes the case with mobile cranes and always the case with tower cranes). Truck loader crane certificates should teach an operator what hand signals to use.

The crane operator has a remote control unit and is standing on the right. The roofer wearing orange hi-vis is acting as both a spotter and dogman
driver training courses

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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