Italy is notorious for its colourful and theatrical road craft, it can scare many a tourist from driving during their visit or worst still put them off entirely. However the exuberance does not only threaten tourists as many of the locals are scared out of cars too.
For an orderly Britain the road manners appear uncouth, to a German, erratic, to an American, quaint but crazy and truth is that all of these things are correct. There is no one easy way to learn how to drive in Italy. Its debatable wether the native road users have ever learned to drive but it is key for a foreigner to know to drive strong and express oneself at the same time. Fear is your enemy and as a famous person wisely said; "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of the wise". This is very true when it comes to driving in Italy as there are rules but whether or not you choose to follow them is up to the driver at that particular time.
What do we mean drive strong and express yourself ? To make more sense of it all here is the TestaVeloce rules vs reality guide to surviving, as best as possible, on the Italian roads.
Where : AutoStrada
Rules: Follow the speed limit, keep distances and stay in lanes
Reality: The number on the speed sign appears to be an average speed suggestion. Lane markings are decorative only. Keep a look out behind as there will be someone trying to get into your boot (trunk). Indicator use is voluntary. Following distance between cars is 25cm.
TV Says : Use all mirrors to look behind as they may be so close you don't see them in the rear view. Keep up a good speed and indicate when changing lanes, it may expose you as a foreigner but its best to give the warning. Plan ahead and don't get caught behind lorries. Exit roads often have sharp bends so get ready to brake heavily from motorway speeds on the slip road. Don't be surprised to have someone pull into the safe gap you are leaving between you and the car in front.
Rules: Do not drive in Limited Traffic Zones (ZTL's)
Reality: Drive anywhere (except ZTL's). Fast as you like. Park anywhere. Standard distance between cars whilst driving is 15cm, whilst parked 0.1cm. There is no give way at roundabouts. You are foreign if you do not have a dent or scratch on your car.Expect drivers to perform at least two other tasks whilst driving e.g.: Smoking, phone calls, drinking. If there is a space expect something to fillet, most likely a moped. Enter roundabouts with force, do not expect courtesy. Lots of hand signals.
TV Says: Keep your eyes on your mirror and be aware of as much around you as possible. Creativity and coercion is respected. Be bold. Push onto roundabouts. Mopeds appear from nowhere and there are lots of them, just let them ride around.
Where : Parking
Rules: Park in designated parking spaces.
Reality: Park anywhere, yes anywhere....
TV Says: Park in blue bays, these are the paid parking for everyone. Pay for how long you think you may need. If you are longer than expected don't fret.
Rules: Not many. Look out for farm vehicles and don't get distracted by the views.
Reality : Drive fast or really slow. Applies to farm machinery too. Look out for tourists stopping off for a photo or to check the map. Distances on signposts are an estimate and are subject to change. Sign posts are placed at the junction so get ready to turn or u-turn. Roads can wind up and down hills for miles.
TV says: Enjoy some of the finest roads known to man. Usually quite empty too. Look out for stopping tourists or Euro Camper vans who are lost. Always have a sat nav as you could be on the same road for miles. When you take a bend watch out as it is often followed by another and most likely going the other direction. Oh and tighter so drive accordingly (slow in fast out). We don't know what the sign is with two opposing arrows.
There you have it. a brief guide on how to enjoy the chaos an beauty that comes with driving in Italy. It is a marvel of the motoring world for the many reasons noted here and one that you should be intimidated by but not overwhelmed by. The driving experience is a window to Italian culture, chaotic, creative, self expressive. Certainly a few espressos can help. Drive responsibly these tips are to be used as a guide.
Feel free to contact us at TestaVeloce if you have any questions or concerns with your planned trip to Italy. We are always happy to help with car advice, routes or anything else. firstname.lastname@example.org