a counterbalance forklift at work with a load at the front

Driving a forklift: A Step by Step Beginners Guide

Driving a forklift isn’t as easy as you might think.

That’s why skilled forklift drivers and operators are in high-demand in nearly every city in the world.

Becoming competent and skilled at driving a forklift takes time and effort but when you do, it is very rewarding in more ways than one.

In this blog, we are going to give you a step by step guide on the basics of safe forklift operation.

So even if you’re an experienced driver or a novice, we’re sure you’ll find something of value here.

Keep reading for more.

Driving a forklift

What are the controls on a forklift?

Some forklift controls will be recognisable to you if you’ve driven a car when you climb into the cab, but there may be some forklift controls and levers you are unsure of.

The majority of forklifts will include a steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator for controlling the vehicle.

Levers that are located on or near the dash will also be present. Usually, the parking brake lever is located to the left of the steering wheel.

The forks are managed by the levers to the right of the steering wheel.

The prongs tilt in addition to moving up and down. The Lift Control Lever, which raises and lowers the steering wheel, is often the lever closest to the forks.

Frequently, the forks’ tilt is controlled by the lever to its right. To prevent the load you’re lifting from sliding off the end when you raise it with your forklift, slant the forks backward.

Driving a forklift

The steering wheel horn and indicators are two additional features on a forklift that are important to note.

Similar to a manual car, a forklift with a manual gearbox has a clutch pedal and a shift lever on the floor to the right of the steering column.

However, most are semi-automatic or fully automatic now and don’t have a clutch.

Some may also have what’s called an inching pedal, which is used to make slow and micro movements to position your forklift for lifting a load or manoeuvring in narrow aisles and spaces.

It’s typically operated by your left foot and situated beside the break pedal.


How do you turn on and drive a forklift

Before you jump into a forklift and drive, it’s important to know the legal requirements – this blog answers if you need a forklift licence to drive one in Ireland.

It’s also important your employer knows them too, as he or she must ensure you are adequately trained!

Don’t forget your pre-checks too in case there is any damage or defects to the machine that could ultimately impact its performance and your safety.

We’ve that covered in our Top Tips for Safe Forklift Operation.

So after getting the housekeeping out of the way, you are ready to hop on and start driving.

Put your seatbelt on.

Driving a forklift

To start the forklift, turn the key. Ensure that the lever is in the neutral position at the middle.

To prevent dragging them as you drive, raise the forks two to four inches off the ground using the control levers.

Like in a car, use the accelerator to move forward. As you begin to move, use the shifter or steering wheel to change directions.

To move forward or reverse, push forward or backward. Put the gearshift back into neutral when you come to a halt.

Naturally, you should refer to the forklift’s manual for information about your particular make and model of forklift.

The process of learning how to use a forklift is not a one size fits all!

What position should the forks be in while driving a forklift?

Always drive with the forks in the low position when driving a forklift safely.

You should only raise the forks when moving or placing something on a high shelf.

Lift the object you’re transferring and then reduce the load to a low location.

This will keep your forklift’s center of gravity stable, preventing you from toppling over, as well as keep you from running into someone’s head.

Knowing where the fulcrum point of your forklift is important to maintain a high level of forklift safety.

Whenever you finish using a forklift, make sure it is parked, the parking brake is engaged, and the prongs are in the down position.

Forks can hurt people if they are left in a high place and you don’t want that!

Do you drive a forklift forward or backwards

It all depends on your situation, such as what kind of load you are carrying.

For example, if you are carrying a load that is big and bulky, you should always drive the forklift in reverse so not to obstruct your vision.

Particularly in tight warehouses with blind corners, this is very important from  a safety point of view.

When reversing, always do so at a slow speed because it is much easier to lose control and don’t forget to sound that horn to alert pedestrians in your vicinity.

Equally, if you’re manoeuvring down a ramp, always go in reverse because it helps keep the load balanced.

While reversing, always face the rear of the forklift as opposed to twisting around. It helps you keep a constant eye on your load.

At this stage you should have realised that reversing is one of the key aspects when driving a forklift and will be a key part of your training.


We take forklift training very seriously at Masterlift, so make sure you visit our website to learn more about our RTITB Accredited Trainers.

We can travel to your workplace and complete the training onsite too, which is hugely popular with businesses.

Check it out below or get in contact.