Driving in Italy: What every Motorist Should Know Touring Italy
When driving in Italy for your holidays, whether you have rented a car, or brought your own car, get to know the road rules, speed limits and restrictions before you travel.
First of all, I want to say that you have to be alert on the Italian roads. Some roads are extremely narrow, especially in remote areas, and are driven very badly by the locals who are not adverse to swinging around corners half-way across your path on a corner, or having a huge pantechnicon truck doing the same as they take short cuts through country roads.
And never take your car into Italian villages and towns. Rather park outside the walls of the town or village because you will have great difficulty driving a car around those narrow town lanes that Italians do quite skilfully with their small cars. Your rental will no doubt be twice that size and impossible to get around such tight spaces.
Finally, many roads in the mountainous areas do not have sufficient safety measures, and there can often be nothing but a small bush between you and the deep ravine next to you with no safety barriers in sight. This all makes for some heart-stopping driving in places and can take the edge off the pleasures of driving around Italy if you are not alert at all times.
Driving in Italy with an EU Driver's License
If you have an EU Driving License you may drive in Italy with no problem. You will be told that to drive in Italy you need a valid International License. However, we have now been traveling to Italy backwards and forwards for the last 10 years now, and we have never applied for an International License and you will not be asked for one when you rent a car in Italy.
As long as you have a valid and clean license from your country of origin, it should be accepted. However, it is always best to make sure of this with your car rental company before you travel.
To get an International Driving License you can apply for one through your local Automobile Association. Once you have this, you can travel around Italy for up to a year with this license. After that, you will have to apply for an Italian driving license.
Driving in Italy: Road Rules
I know at times you will think that there aren't any road rules in Italy by the way some people drive, but there are.
One thing that is mandatory when driving in Italy, is that if you change direction at any time when you are driving, you have to use your indicators to do so. This includes overtaking, turning or even stopping. If you have broken down, you must take out the red triangle and place it at a safe distance from your car. Carrying a red triangle is compulsory.
Of course the most important point of all is that in Italy people drive on the right hand side of the road. As a result, when you come to a 4-way stop, you give way to people coming from the right.
Many roundabouts and intersections have directional arrows for you to follow. Make sure that you do, because if you don't, you will incur the anger of your fellow drivers. And Italian drivers are not shy in letting you know just how annoyed they are with you.
One situation where you don't give way to traffic from the right is when you see this sign
This is when you usually have heavy traffic coming onto the road from your left, and you no longer have priority.
This condition will continue until you see the same sign, but this time with black lines through the sign. This now means that you can revert back to giving way to traffic from the right.
When driving in Italy with children make sure that they are buckled up at all times. Children under four cannot travel in the car at all unless they are strapped into a car seat. Children between four and 12 cannot travel in the front unless using a suitable restraint system. And by suitable this doesn't mean a seat belt at the age of 4, as this is not a suitable retraining device at that age. Renting car seats from car rental companies is possible.
Not only do children have to buckle up, but all your passengers do too. Seat belts are compulsory for front and rear-seat passengers.
If you are driving a motorcycle you must wear a helmet and your motorcycle must have 2 review mirrors.
Using your horn to avoid an accident is acceptable, but using your horn in a built-up area is not. In fact it is officially banned.
If you are driving in Italy and decide to have a couple of glasses of wine or beer for lunch, or stop off at some wine estates for some wine tasting take care. Despite Italy being a wine producing country, they are stricter than most countries regarding blood/alcohol levels. In Italy you are only allowed to have 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per 1 milliliter of blood, so take care.
Driving in Italy: Speed Limits
There are built-in speed cameras on many of the national roads, both on the freeways and on town roads. To know what they look like, they are grey in color and look like a metal pillar, some are about 10 inches wide, others can be wider, and about 3 and a half feet tall.
However, in Italy you can also find mobile speed cameras as well, and the fines for speeding are stiff. Most of the time you won't even know that you have a fine until you get home and the car rental company contacts you. Or worse still, you will get a hefty on-the-spot fine, which could eat into your holiday budget. The traffic police are highly visible and often do spot checks on cars, so take care.
The speed limits for driving in Italy are as follows:
On the autostradas or motorways, it is 130 km per hour when dry, 110 km per hour when wet
On four lane highways or main roads outside of urban areas it is 110 km per hour when dry, 90 km per hour when wet
On single lane roads or secondary roads it is 90 km per hour when dry, 80 km per hour when wet
In built up areas it is 50 km per hour wet or dry.
When traveling on the autostrada, kept to the right and pass on the left. Get back into your lane using your indicator and do not stay out in the left hand lane if you are not going the speed of the traffic.
If you do you will get smartly flashed out of the way by some irate Italian who will tailgate you until you move over. It is also compulsory to drive with your lights on when traveling on the autostrada during the day.
When you are traveling on the autostrada be aware of some of the signs in Italian that you will need to know the meaning of:
Tangenziale means an Orbital Road
Driving in Italy: The Gas Stations
Don't get caught without any gas when you are touring Italy, and it can easily happen if you don't know when they open.
Gas stations in the main are open from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 3:30p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Most stations are closed on Sundays. Where you will find 24 hour stations is along the autostrada.
When they are open they are often self-service. All grades of unleaded petrol (benzina), diesel (gasolio) and LPG are available as well as lead substitute additive. Leaded no longer exists.
Credit and debit cards are not always accepted, and they probably won't work at automatic pumps, which are often the only pumps open out-of-hours and at lunch-time (from noon to 3pm) away from the Autostrada. And getting foreign currency accepted will be a tall ask.
Italian Roads and Motorways
The Italian motorway network of over 6,000 km is one of the best developed in Europe.
Motorways are indicated by the letter " A " followed by a number written in white on a green background. They are almost all subject to tolls, except for some brief stretches, especially approaching urban areas.
The main a secondary roads are indicated by blue signs with white lettering.
There are national, provincial and municipal roads.
How to use the Emergency Phones on the Motorways in Italy
If you breakdown help is available from the Automobil Club Italiano (ACI) throughout the country. Calls for help on the motorways can be made from the emergency points 24 hours a day. The emergency points are positioned approximately every 2 km.
The emergency points have a button with a symbol of a spanner for using if you have broken down. There is another button with a red cross if there has been an accident or you need first aid assistance.
Roads from Europe to Italy
The frontier passes with Switzerland, France, Austria and Slovenia are open 24 hours a day throughout the year. Some high altitude passes and even the smaller roads in the Alps are closed during the winter.
Roads from France to Italy:
The main passes linking with France are the Little St. Bernard, Mt. Cenis, and Mt. Genevre as well as the Tenda, Frejus and Mount Blanc tunnels.
Roads from Switzerland to Italy:
With Switzerland there are the passes of the Spluga and the Great Saint Bernard and the Great Saint Bernard tunnel.
Roads from Austria to Italy:
From Austria the Brenner motorway pass and the Monte Croce Carnico pass links the two countries.
Roads from Slovenia to Italy:
There is only one road that links these two countries and that is the Predil Pass.
Driving in Italy: The Toll Roads
The roads in Italy aren't too bad, and the toll system allows you to get from A to B more directly. However, you need to make sure that you have Euro coins and small notes on you so that you can pay for these roads if you are going to pay by cash.
Each toll is different and you can never be sure what will happen, unless you have traveled through these tolls several times and you get to know how they work. Depending on which toll you use, there are 3 different scenarios. Sometimes you just have to collect a ticket at the toll and you pay when you exit, submitting your ticket to get the fee. Sometimes the toll road is free, depending on the time you go through the toll. Other times it is a set fee and you pay as you enter the toll and don't need a ticket.
When you come to a toll entrance you will see a toll plaza with one or more drive-in gates. Always go to a gate marked Biglietto (ticket) or drive to an unmarked gate. Do not enter gates marked only Viacard or Telepass, unless you have one. Take a ticket from the automated machine at the entry gate.
After you pass through the toll plaza you will see signs directing you to the possible destinations for the autostrada. Always know which larger city you are heading towards, and know the city names in Italian (e.g. Milano for Milan or Firenze for Florence).
Using a ViaCard or Telepass Car: For tourists there are two options:
1) Pre-Paid ViaCard
2) Credit Card deducted Telepass
1) The Pre-Paid ViaCard:
You can apply for a ViaCard if you are traveling Italy extensively as it will certainly save you time in the queues, especially in the summer when it is peak tourist time.
You can apply for this at a motorway toll kiosk, at the Autogrill restaurants that you see on the motorways, in tobacco stores, at petrol stations on the motorways, in many banks or at the ACI offices.
The pre-paid card can be bought for Euros, 25, 50 0r 75 .
Travel Italy Grapevine Travel Tip: The ViaCard is accepted everywhere in Italy, except in Sicily.
The ViaCard is presented at the right kiosk with your ticket and saves you carrying around the right amount of cash. Toll roads are expensive, and soon add up, so it is better to buy one of these pre-paid cards even if it is for emergencies.
2) The Telepass Card
The Telepass Card is not a pre-paid card but linked to your credit card where you get billed for the times you use the toll roads. However, it has to be an Italian credit card.
You will get a small electronic receiver that you attach to your windscreen that costs under Euros as a one-off payment.
Once you go through the toll gate your trips are automatically deducted from your credit card every time you use it. You have to return the electronic device on your trip home by giving it in at your nearest toll kiosk. However, if you lose it you will be charged Euro 30.
If you have your device you can go through the Toll lanes marked with a large yellow "T" on a blue background.
Travel Italy Grapevine Travel Tip: If you find that you are in the wrong lane at an Italian toll checkpoint, do not reverse out of the lane or get out of your car leaving the car in the vacinity of a toll. If you do, you face a fine of E6, 000, could lose your license for 2 years and have your car confiscated for up to 3 months. Rather stay where you are and press the button at the kiosk if it is unmanned labeled " Assistenza".
Services on the Motorway:
The services on the motorways is excellent. They are always open, no matter what time you travel and you will find petrol stations, restaurants, bars, information offices and banks.
Driving in Italy: Using the Bypasses
There are a number of bypasses that you can use to avoid going through the major cities. Taking these is advisable if you don't want to spend hours in traffic unnecessarily.
See the following maps for bypasses for Milan, Florence and Rome.
Bypass Map for Florence
Bypass Map for Milan
Bypass Map for Rome
Driving in Italy: Parking Woes
Parking in towns and cities around Italy can be a nightmare if you don't have the right paperwork and are not aware of the zoning system.
In blue zones, a parking disk, obtained at tourist offices, ACI offices or gas stations must be displayed on the dashboard. Parking in this zone is limited to one hour.
There is also metered street parking. In these areas, you will see a large sign with the letter "P." Look for a coin box where you will deposit enough coins to pay for the length of time you wish to stay. The machine will dispense a ticket showing the time of day that you must vacate the parking space. Display this ticket on the dashboard of the car.
When it is all said and done, despite the bad driving at times, Italians are courteous on the roads, they are fairly disciplined and will indicate and give way when required, which is a lot different to Middle Eastern roads where I have lived where you hope that your life insurance can be cashed in on the other side if needed!
Driving in Italy as in independent traveler away from organized tours allows you to stop and explore the country at your leisure. You can visit off-the-beaten-track sites and see far more than you would if you went on a whistle-stop tour that allows you to see the main towns but also feeds you into tourist traps and little leeway to explore on your own.
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