Driving test

Forklift truck driving for beginners

They've got four wheels and a steering wheel – but that's all they have in common with a car. It looks like child's play. But driving a forklift truck is hard work.

It looks so easy. A little pressure on the accelerator and the truck moves gently off. Instinct tells a car driver that the clutch is on the left. Wrong! It's a lot different in the forklift truck world and nobody notices this more quickly than someone taking the forklift truck driving test. Together with 15 others, this Wednesday I'm in Aschaffenburg, the home of Linde Material Handling, starting the two-day course. And I won't beat about the bush: it may look like child's play but it's hard work.

One of the numerous obstacles to overcome is that, instead of an accelerator, brake and clutch pedal and a gearshift knob, the Linde electric forklift truck just has one pedal for driving forward and one for reversing. When they're under pressure, beginners often drive off in the wrong direction; particularly if they're loaded up with several pallets and have to cope with rear-wheel steering at the same time.

The first day of the course is taken up with theory. Diagrams show us the load centre of gravity; we learn about visual inspections and about giving people a lift on the truck. Solving the theory test at the end is possible even though it's full of tricky questions designed to trip us up; for example: using the load centre of gravity diagram, work out how much a forklift truck may carry.

Day two; practical sessions at last. The first driving exercise of the day is still comparatively simple: driving the electric forklift truck forwards and backwards. No problem. The next task is a little more difficult. "When reversing and cornering, you need to be aware that forklift trucks have rear wheel steering", cautions Ingo Geiß, the driving instructor from Linde's Health, Safety and Environment department. "As a result, the vehicle moves in a way which is significantly different from a car."

Then it gets serious. The practical driving test. Using traffic cones and wire mesh crates, Ingo Geiß lays out the test course, including a few chicanes with tight bends and loading and unloading tasks. Just looking at it, I get butterflies in my stomach. Then it's my turn. I try to stay calm and take my time. Get in, close the door, belt up, start the "engine", straighten up the lift mast and raise the fork arms just a touch: no problem with the initial tasks.

But then, the real skills test: pick up the load, turn, negotiate the cones, ground the load, negotiate the cones again, pick up the load. After a few minutes, I've got my nerves under control; it's going well but it feels like it's taking an eternity. Then it's over; park the truck, lower the lift mast, tilt the fork arms downwards, switch off the engine. I've passed the test.

Quite a few had previous knowledge before coming to take the test. "The vast majority of course participants work with forklift trucks every day and of course, as a result, they have a completely different set of prior skills compared with those participants who get their first really close look at forklift trucks while on the course," says Ingo Geiß. Like me, Rabea Stein hadn't been able to gain any experience beforehand. The course was that much more valuable: "Now and then, my work involves showing customers our extra heavy-duty trucks", explains Rabea who is a Commercial Support Manager at Linde MH. "Today, at last, I've learned how to drive a forklift truck. That's a huge help," she says delightedly. She passes the test - as do all the others.

Vanessa Kraus has been working since August 2013 as a trainee in the corporate communications department at the KION Group's head office in Wiesbaden.