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Why Driving a Forklift is Different than Driving a Car

If you’ve never driven a forklift before and think it can’t be that much different than driving a car, think again. While the front wheels are used to steer cars and trucks, the rear wheels steer a forklift. On a forklift the front wheels are used to support most of the load with the forklift’s rear end swinging in a circle around the front wheels. When it comes to driving a forklift, understanding how forklifts differ from cars and trucks is an essential part of staying safe. Here are some things to keep in mind.Experienced forklift operators know they must check that there is enough room for the forklift’s rear end to swing when making turns. Many companies maintain such required clearance by permanently marking aisles with painted lines or arranging storage racks in aisles so forklifts can travel throughout the warehouse. Navigating a forklift through warehouse spaces can only be done safely when the driver understands that a forklift is not as responsive as a car when turning the steering wheel. A forklift’s rear steering makes it difficult to stop a forklift quickly. Even for expert forklift drivers it is also difficult to swerve and still maintain control of the forklift, with most recognizing the importance of not driving fast or rounding corners too quickly.

While driving a forklift in a warehouse has its own set of challenges, there are an even greater set of challenges driving one outside especially when faced with driving a load downhill. Ignoring safety procedures could result in loss of the load and control of the forklift. Keeping the load on the uphill side is the safest way to drive a forklift on an incline. With the load on the downhill side you don’t have any weight on the wheels that steer which could cause you to lose control of the forklift. In addition, the forklift could tip or the load could fall off.

Larger forklift loads often obstruct the driver’s view in one direction. In some cases a driver must place the load to the rear of the forklift and travel a long distance in reverse. When traveling in reverse experienced forklift drivers know to use extra caution, constantly checking their surroundings for safety hazards and driving slow.

One thing that cars, trucks and forklifts have in common are seatbelts. In some cases forklifts have lap bars. Forklift manufacturers have been required to equip new forklifts with operator constraints since 1992. Whether it’s a lap bar or a seat belt, you must use it in order to prevent being thrown outside the forklift’s protective cage in the event of an overturn.

Jumping from the forklift during an overturn is the last thing a forklift driver should do. The driver is safest staying in the seat, holding on firmly and leaning in the opposite direction of the fall rather than trying to jump. When the forklift begins to tip it does so slowly, tricking the driver into thinking he or she has enough time to jump. But once the center of gravity is past the forklift’s wheel line, the forklift will rapidly fall with its overhead guard pinning or crushing the driver who jumps.

With the rear wheels used to steer, driving a forklift is much different than driving a car or a truck. Using restraints like lap bars or seat belts is the best way to avoid being thrown from a forklift in the event of an overturn.

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