Welcome to my guide on driving in Italy! Italy is a country renowned for its picturesque landscapes, charming towns, and vibrant cities, making it a popular destination for travelers. While exploring this beautiful country by car can offer flexibility and convenience, it’s essential to be well-prepared for the unique challenges that come with driving in Italy. From limited traffic zones and traffic cameras to toll roads and the unpredictable driving habits of locals, navigating the roads can be quite an adventure. In this blog post, we will provide you with valuable insights and tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience in Italy. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for an insightful journey through the intricacies of driving in Italy!
Common Driving Questions Answered and Tips For Driving in Italy
Common Questions Answered
What side of the road do they drive on in Italy?
In Italy, as in most European countries, people drive on the right-hand side of the road. The driver’s seat is located on the left-hand side of the vehicle, and overtaking is generally done on the left.
What does a US citizen need to drive in Italy?
A Valid US Driver’s License, a valid US Passport and it’s recommended to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your US license. Although I was never asked for one, even when renting the car.
Is it difficult to drive in italy?
Yes it can be very difficult! In Italy most traffic laws, like staying in your lane or stopping at a stop sign are considered optional by locals. Below I will go into more detail on what you need to know before driving in Italy that no one tells you before you go.
Thing You Need to Know Before Driving in Italy
#1. ZLTs aka Limited Traffic Zones
One of the most important things to be aware of before driving in Italy is the existence of Zona a Traffico Limitato or ZLTs, which stands for limited traffic zones. These zones are specific sections within towns where only local residents are allowed to drive. It’s crucial to note that many popular tourist destinations fall within these zones, and violating the restrictions can result in fines ranging from €100 to €350. Therefore, if you are planning to drive and have accommodations booked in a prime location, you must be prepared to navigate these ZTLs.
To identify ZTLs, keep an eye out for signs indicating whether the zone is active or not. These signs are prominently displayed, alerting drivers to the restrictions in place. It’s worth mentioning that ZTLs can be found in every major city throughout Italy, from Rome and Florence to Naples and Lake Como. Therefore, conducting thorough research prior to your trip is essential to ensure a smooth driving experience.
2. Traffic Cameras
From what I can gather, Italy generates a significant portion of its revenue from traffic cameras, tolls, and ZTLs. Speed cameras are abundant throughout the country. Whether you’re traveling on major highways or small roads in rural areas. It’s important to note that you will likely encounter numerous cameras during your journey, so it’s crucial to remain vigilant and attentive while driving.
3. Toll Roads
The most efficient way to travel around Italy by car is by utilizing its extensive network of toll roads. These roads offer the advantage of faster travel, but they do come with charges. In most cases, when you enter a toll road, you will receive a ticket. Which you will need to present at the exit point to make the payment. However, some toll roads have a flat fee for driving on them.
It’s important to note that when you approach a toll booth, there will be signs indicating the accepted payment methods: card, cash, or both. It’s crucial to choose the appropriate lane based on your preferred payment method to avoid any inconvenience. And it is not uncommon to see lines of cars backing out of a toll lane to get the proper lane.
What if the toll booth doesn’t give you a ticket?
Please be aware that occasionally, you may encounter situations where you do not receive a ticket at the entrance. In such cases, it has been reported that some drivers have experienced the gates opening without a ticket being issued. We had this happen to us twice. Or individuals attempting to take their tickets. If this happens, you can use the help button located at the toll booth. The toll operator will inquire about your point of entry, and if you provide honest information, they will typically calculate the appropriate toll and allow you to proceed. However, if you do not provide accurate information, you may receive a ticket in the mail later on.
4. They have Gas and Food Stops on the Toll Highways
If you take an “exit” off the toll road, you will be required to pay the toll. However, to circumvent this, rest stops are strategically placed along the toll road, providing convenient access to gas stations and food services. These rest stops are essentially small pull-off areas that are still considered part of the toll road. They have gained significant popularity among travelers and often offer a variety of amenities, including pre-packaged sandwiches, beverages, and a range of other items for purchase.
5. Lanes are Optional
One of the strangest things about driving in Italy, and this is especially true on the highways and toll roads. They tend to split the line and drive in two lanes. After talking to a few locals they seem to feel that this “keeps their options open”. When in fact all it does is turn a three lane highway I to two lanes. And you will often see a car going 20k under the speed limit while blocking two lanes. It is incredibly strange and speaks to my next point.
6. Italians May be the Worst Drivers on the Planet
I have personally driven in over 20 countries, including the Middle East, South America, the South Pacific, and Africa. Based on my experiences, I must say that the drivers in Italy, in my opinion, leave much to be desired. It seems that there is a lack of traffic police, and most traffic violations are monitored and fined through the use of cameras. Consequently, in areas without camera surveillance, the roads can be quite chaotic. I am curious to know whether there is an actual driver’s test in Italy or if licenses are simply handed out along with a bottle of wine, leaving drivers to figure things out on their own.
As a side note, there was a Reddit thread discussing this exact topic. I left a comment sharing my experience, which turned out to be my most upvoted comment so far. Many other individuals also commented with their own stories. Sharing their own experiences with the absence of rules and the complete chaos that can be found on Italian roads. So it’s not just me who thinks this. So be ready!
7. Stop Signs are Optional
Like many other traffic laws, stop signs in Italy appear to be treated as optional. We jokingly refer to them as “stoptional.” Therefore, even if you have the right of way, it is unwise to assume that other drivers will stop. In my experience, most drivers behave in a rude and aggressive manner, often giving you the infamous Italian stare if you dare to look in their direction. While we encountered many incredibly kind and friendly individuals during our travels, it seems that there are ten times as many rude individuals on the roads.
8. Locals Park Anywhere and Everywhere
It’s quite astonishing how Italian drivers disregard parking regulations. They have a tendency to park in areas clearly marked as “no parking,” and even choose to park right in the middle of narrow roads that can barely accommodate two cars. Some drivers go as far as leaving half of their vehicle sticking out into traffic. Coming from my experience in Los Angeles, where creative parking is somewhat of a norm. I must say that Italy takes it to another level. There appears to be a prevailing attitude among Italian drivers that goes along the lines of “as long as it works for me, everyone else can go to hell.”
9. Scooter Drivers May be the Most Reckless
I’ve lost count of the number of times we witnessed scooter riders narrowly escaping serious accidents. Thankfully, due to the generally slow pace of traffic caused by poor driving habits, collisions are somewhat mitigated. However, we regularly encountered outrageous behaviors such as driving in the lanes meant for oncoming traffic, overtaking on blind turns, ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, and even attempting to pass on the right while a car was making a right turn. To our disbelief, we also witnessed scooter riders texting while cruising at speeds of 70 kilometers per hour on toll roads. After conducting a bit of research on accidents in Italy, it became evident that not all riders are fortunate enough to escape unharmed. It is crucial to exercise extreme caution and remain alert at all times while navigating the roads in Italy.
10. Get Full Coverage on Your Rental Car
If I haven’t made it clear by this point, driving in Italy can be quite chaotic. The frequency of car damage on the roads suggests that accidents occur regularly, whether while driving or while parked. During our trip, our car was hit on multiple occasions. Once while we were driving, another time by a scooter that squeezed by, and once while it was parked, possibly due to a careless driver. Thankfully, I’ve come to realize that having full coverage is an absolute necessity when renting a car abroad. Believe me when I say that it will save you a great deal of stress.
Closing Thoughts on Driving in Italy
Driving in Italy can be a challenging and chaotic experience. It is crucial to be aware of limited traffic zones (ZLTs) that restrict access to certain areas, as violating these restrictions can result in hefty fines. Additionally, the abundance of traffic cameras throughout the country means that drivers must remain vigilant at all times to avoid penalties. Utilizing toll roads can provide faster travel, but drivers should be prepared to pay the toll fees and choose the appropriate payment method at toll booths. Rest stops along the toll roads offer convenient access to gas stations and food services.
However, the driving habits of Italians, including splitting lanes and disregard for traffic laws, can make the roads unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Italian drivers’ tendency to park anywhere and everywhere further adds to the chaotic nature of driving in the country. Scooter riders are known for their reckless behavior, requiring extra caution from other drivers. Considering the frequency of car damage, obtaining full coverage when renting a car is highly recommended to alleviate stress. Overall, driving in Italy requires thorough research, patience, and a keen sense of awareness to navigate the roads successfully.