How To Drive Like an Italian

Posted by on Jul 22, 2009 in Driving, My Stories | 14 Comments

 

 

Italians have a reputation for being crazy drivers, and sure, you may see some incredible things on the road (like this video of trucks turning on to the autostrada going the wrong way). But I would argue that in general, Italians are some of the best drivers in the world. It’s a matter of understanding their driving habits. Read my story about learning one important habit the hard way, or skip to the 10 habits to adopt in order to drive like an Italian.


Miss blackbutterfly flickr road


A Car Accident with an Italian Policeman

 

The Carabiniere had pulled up next to my white van in his brand-new Alfa Romeo. We were at a T-intersection, both turning left, and he had squeezed himself in to my right – which is perfectly normal in Italy. But since I was in the left lane, I had the right of way for the left turn. Then, my mistake: I hesitated, trying to decide whether my 20-foot long Renault van had enough torque to propel itself into the approaching gap in traffic. I concluded it did, and released the clutch, but a second too late: the Carabiniere had already started to turn left in front of me. There was a scraping of metal, a slamming of brakes, and then I learned some new Italian swear words. 


He was a little taken aback when I responded assertively, in Italian, that actually the accident was his fault, since he was not actually allowed to make a left turn in front of me.  I handed over my insurance information while he muttered under his breath about damn French women who can’t drive (my van had French plates, and I didn’t see the need to clarify that I was Canadian), and moved along, with no further consequences except one: I am no longer indecisive when driving in Italy.

 

 

Traffic light flickr Evelina


And now, 10 driving habits to adopt if you are planning to drive (or trying to decide whether to drive) in Italy.


1) Drive with confidence. Be decisive. I’m not saying propel yourself into traffic without making sure it’s safe. Just be aware that Italian drivers assume hesitation means you are not going. They will go around you, which makes it even more difficult to eventually insert yourself into traffic. I know driving confidently is easier said than done; how many of us who have been driving for years can become confident drivers overnight?  My usual recommendation to anyone who is not already a confident or a somewhat aggressive and safe driver is to avoid driving in Italy.

 

2) The left lane of the highway (autostrada) is only for passing. If you need to pass the car in front of you, by all means, move into the left lane. Then, once you’ve passed, move back over to the right immediately. Never, ever pass on the right: it’s dangerous because many Italian drivers don’t shoulder check when changing lanes to the right. They know that any car in a lane to their right is by default moving more slowly than they are, so there’s no need to look back and check for approaching cars.


 

 

 

3) Unlike in other parts of the world, where stop signs mean drivers should come to a complete stop, stop signs in Italy mean: make sure the coast is clear before proceeding. There may be no need to stop, or even slow down. And if you do stop when it’s not necessary, you may get rear-ended. So slow down enough to make sure it’s safe to go, then proceed. Note: this applies only to stop signs, not to red traffic lights – at those you must stop and wait until the light turns green.


Narrow road flickr moty66 ipernity


 

 

4) Adopt the habit of folding in your side mirrors when you park on the street, so that they’re still there when you return to your car. 


 

 

5) Horns are a useful mode of communication. Practice hitting the horn lightly, because in addition to the lean-on-the-horn angry beeping you may be more familiar with, it can mean “here I come, around a blind corner” (as in this video of a bus in the Amalfi Coast), or “on your right/left” to a cyclist. If you get beeped at, don’t assume the other driver is angry.

 

6) A well-known Italian saying about driving is “You watch your front, let everyone else watch your back”.  And this is actually how they drive. Consquences: very little shoulder-checking; aggressively driving forward to fit into gaps in traffic.


7) Know that there are speed cameras everywhere. Speed cameras in Italy track average speed, not just your speed while you’re passing a camera. You’ll get a ticket in the mail, or sent to your car rental company, if your average speed is above the limit. Here’s a good blog post about speed cameras, complete with photos, so you know what to look for. (Note: at the time I first published this, speed cameras in Italy tracked speed only at the time the car was in front of the camera. I used to recommend just slowing down in front of the speed camera and then speeding up again like Italians do, but that no longer works, so I’ve updated the information.)

 

8) An indicator light or turn signal means “Here I go”, not ”I want to go”, or “I’m waiting to see if you let me go”. Think about the combination of #1 (be decisive) and #6 (only watch your front): when a car in front of you indicates that they are changing lanes, it doesn’t mean they are hoping you will yield, it means “get out of the way”. Similarly, when you indicate that you’re changing lanes, you should swiftly change. If you hesitate, other drivers will assume you’re not going. 


Mirror flickr valter49


 

9) If there’s a mirror on the road, use it. Winding roads with little visibility as well as narrow streets in historic city centers often have mirrors in strategic places to help you see around corners. They are there for a reason, so get in to the habit of looking for them. 


 

10) Keep your eye out at all times for scooters (aka motorinos or vespas): they weave in and out of traffic, will come very close to your car, and sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.


Please comment with your own experience about driving like an Italian. And above all, drive
safely!


Photo of moving cars at night by miss_blackbutterflyPhoto of intersection with umbrella by *Evelina*Photo of parked cars by http://moty66.ipernity.co mPhoto of mirror by Valter49


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14 Comments

  1. Barbara
    August 2, 2009

    These are the absolute best Italian driving instructions I have ever read! I live in Naples where they say the driving is crazier than anywhere else in Italy. While that may indeed be true, your tips are right on the mark.
    My compliments for this wonderful blog!
    Barbara
    http://theespressobreak.blogspot.com

    Reply
  2. Madeline
    August 2, 2009

    Thanks Barbara! Naples, wow. Naples and Catania are my least favorite places to drive in Italy… ;o)
    I had a look at your blog, too – what a great Naples travel guide.

    Reply
  3. George@Install IDE Drivers
    June 4, 2010

    That’s totally amazing !
    i like it..
    like an a road trip ..
    Thanks for sharing this photos to us..
    i appreciate it..:)
    Keep on posting:)

    Reply
  4. Madeline
    June 4, 2010

    Thanks for your comment George!

    Reply
  5. truck rental
    June 17, 2010

    OH! Scooters in Italy are so scary- I am not sure they even need a license to drive one :) I am sure you feel more alive after every drive in that amazing country :)

    Reply
  6. flapane
    March 19, 2011

    I would argue that rule number 2 is required by law, so you MUST stay on the right lane, and who passes you on the right lane either is crazy or an idiot :)

    Reply
  7. D.
    March 30, 2011

    Nice post. :)
    Note that same things you wrote are actually true even for the law:
    *you must stay on the right lane if you are not passing.
    *if you rear end someone, the fault is yours and not of the car in front.
    Someone asked about license for scooters: yes, do you need a scooters’ license to drive them.

    Reply
  8. Madeline
    March 30, 2011

    good points Flapane and D – they are the law not just common sense. Thanks for your comments :-)

    Reply
  9. W
    April 15, 2011

    Re: flapane & Number 2:
    It is legal (and often done) to overtake on the right AS LONG AS YOU DON’T CHANGE LANES.
    See http://www.poliziadistato.it/articolo/2094/ (Italian) for an explanation by the police itself.

    Reply
  10. Marlene Henley
    April 26, 2011

    When driving in other countries, we should conform to their traffic rules, to lessen the instance of accidents and issuance of tickets, in which it will hinder you from having a perfect experience there.

    Reply
  11. Jill W
    September 10, 2011

    This is a GREAT post!
    I just moved to Sicily and have driven in Catania and the surrounding area and it has actually been great fun to adapt to the Italian driving style. Yes, I have had my heart just about leap out of my chest, but only once or twice. Overall, once you realize the rules in your post, it all starts to make sense and you can feel like you are a part of the dance.
    I posted about my inital rental car and driving impressions, too: http://cinquecentoproject.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/fiat-punto/
    Cheers.

    Reply
  12. Madeline
    September 11, 2011

    Jill, wow, Catania! I’ve driven in Catania and would choose never to do so again – you’ll find the rest of Italy a breeze. Glad you liked the post!

    Reply
  13. chillout
    September 20, 2011

    I found your article an interesting read.
    One point I think you should add is that headlights should be swithched on when driving on motorways or major roads. (even during daytime) This is law and if you forget you will most like receive a fine.
    Another thing…
    If you see another car flashing It’s headlights at you, it usually is a warning that there is a speed camera or the police a little further up the road so take note of the speed limit and stick to it for a while.
    Thanks
    http://www.italyforum.it or follow me on twitter @italyforum

    Reply
  14. Madeline
    September 21, 2011

    good point re the headlights! Many cars I’ve driven have automatic headlights so I’ve been lucky I haven’t had to think about it. And good tip re the flashing headlights. Thanks again for your comment, and see you on Italyforum!

    Reply

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