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First-time forklift operators often get the wrong idea about how to steer their vehicle. It’s not the same as driving a car or truck. And it’s less instinctual than steering a bicycle or motorcycle.
For one thing, forklifts are a lot more top-heavy than other types of vehicles, especially when their forks are extended up the mast. One wrong move and the whole forklift can tip over, sending its payload to the pavement.
Forklifts also have a much tighter turning radius than most other vehicles, making them even more prone to tipping over when carrying heavy loads.
Forklift Steering Best Practices
Like riding a bike or driving a car, the more experience you have steering a forklift the easier it becomes. Given time, most operators develop a kind of second nature when it comes to safely steering their vehicles.
But new drivers should keep in mind that even though the controls look similar — a steering wheel, a gas pedal, a brake — forklifts handle very differently than other vehicles.
For newbies, one of the best approaches is to start slow. Very slow. Especially when making turns.
Taking a corner too quickly while driving a forklift can be extremely dangerous. Not only is there the danger of tipping over, but there’s also the risk of not seeing what’s lying behind a blind corner. It could be a pedestrian or another forklift!
Drive with Forks Down
Another difference between forklifts and other vehicles is their line of sight. While drivers of cars and trucks can usually see clearly what’s directly in front of them, forklift operators don’t always have this benefit.
While carrying a load, operators may not be able to clearly see where they are going. That’s why it’s doubly important to go slow and take your time, even when moving in a forward direction.
It’s also a bad idea to drive with your forks elevated even when you aren’t carrying anything on them. Not only does it inhibit the operator’s ability to see where they are going, but it also creates a hazard to anybody or anything that might be in their path.
Driving in Tight Spaces
Another consideration when learning how to steer a forklift is narrow aisles and tight passageways. Most warehouses and docks tend to be pretty cramped. So one of the first things operators need to learn is how to maneuver their vehicles in tight spaces.
Steering a forklift is different than controlling any other type of vehicle. But with time, patience, and caution, it can be safely learned.