A car rental can be an excellent choice when visiting Italy. If you are planning a countryside vacation or a ski trip for example, a car is a necessity. ; Likewise, when you are making a “home base” somewhere outside the main cities and want to take day trips to explore the surrounding areas, a car will make it much easier.
Aside from the stereotype of the Italians driving like maniacs (Italian drivers can be perceived as fairly aggressive if compared to the average American driver -constantly flashing their headlights at any car driving in the fast lane at he speed limit for example), there are a few useful acts you should know if you are planning to drive a car during your next trip to Italy:
I get asked this question a lot when working with clients or speaking to groups so let’s clear it up once and for all. The only 2 countries in Europe in which driving is on the other side are England and Ireland. The rest of the European countries drive on the same side as Americans do. If you want to get technical, Malta also drives on the left, so I guess it would make it 3 countries in Europe then.
There are significant differences in terms of speed limits and speeding fines between Italy and the US, which you would want to familiarize yourself with before departure. If you’re interested in knowing more on this topic, read here.
In most historical cities (e.g. Florence, Rome, Milan, etc.), car access to the downtown areas is limited to residents, limo services, taxis and very specialized categories. Understanding where you can or cannot drive is tricky, since there are no gates for example. The entrance to a restricted area is usually advertized by signs with the acronym ZTL (Zona a Traffico Limitato – Restricted Traffic Area) and you may also notice cameras monitoring the access. Your rental car contract does not provide access to ZTL areas across the country, so driving into one will result in a fine that will be mailed to you by the rental company at your own expenses.
Watch for the color of your parking spot lines.
- White lines are an almost extinct species: those are the free parking spots and there aren’t many left anymore.
- Blue lines signal a pay for parking spot and meters looking very similar to the more modern meters in the US are used to pay for your parking spot. Be aware however that not everywhere you’ll be able to pay for parking with your credit card so saving your coins may be a good idea. Blue lines, however can also signal a parking spot reserved for disabled. Look for the disable international sign posted nearby before assuming it is ok to park in a specific spot.
- Yellow lines are normally used for bus stops and for taxi parking areas and parking there may result in a fine and/or towing of your vehicle.
- And finally, some cities are introducing pink parking lines for spots reserved for expecting women and mothers with small children.
The shortage of parking spots; the enormous amount of moped and motorcycles (that often utilize regular parking spots or park between two already parked cars) and the average size of parking spots (much smaller than in US) make parking in Italy an interesting challenge. My word of advice: hone your parallel parking skills before departing!
Watch for blue or yellow dividing lines when driving.
In many downtown areas, the right lane in each direction of larger boulevards may be reserved for buses, taxis and police cars circulation. If so, a blue or yellow line usually marks this lane and the words “bus” or “taxi” may be found written on the asphalt at regular intervals. Since driving in one of these lanes will get you a ticket, do pay attention to the color of the dividing line!
Driving in Italy may look daunting and it surely requires certain knowledge of the rules that regulate traffic locally. It also requires flexibility to adapt to local driving habits.
But isn’t the same true for driving anywhere in the US or in the world??
With an adventurous spirit and a good dose of humor it may be one of the best parts of your trip.
I would love to hear your “driving in Italy” stories or your personally suggestions to fellow travelers: please leave a comment on this blog, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, post it on facebook or tweet us @CivesUrbe