Tips on driving Italian Autostrada or toll roads

Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Driving | 24 Comments

A repeat client recently told me as we were planning their Italy trip, “We want to rent a car, but I didn’t enjoy driving Italian autostrada last time with the aggressive drivers that would come up inches from my back bumper. We’ll stick to the country roads this time.”

I would break down driving in Italy into 3 categories: driving in cities (not recommended), driving in the countryside, and driving Italian autostrada which are the major highways or motorways. If you’re planning to drive in Italy, here’s what any foreign traveler should know about the autostrade:

 

Autostrade are toll roads

Driving Italian autostrada toll ticket

You must take a ticket when you enter the autostrada, and pay when you exit. If you want to budget for tolls, enter your route on www.Viamichelin.com for an estimate.

 

When you exit the autostrada you must pay the toll in cash. Do not go into the Telepass lane.

Driving Italian autostrada Telepass

On a trip to Italy about 10 months ago, I accidentally exited the autostrada in the Telepass lane. Telepass users can zoom through the Telepass lane and then toll charges are sent to them on a monthly invoice. I realized my mistake too late, and since it’s not possible to stop in the Telepass lane to pay the toll (there’s nobody there to collect money and anyway stopping would create an accident), I spent an hour on the phone once I arrived at my hotel, trying to figure out how to pay my toll. A relatively new law says that without proof of exit location, the driver is issued a fine for what the toll would be from the entry point until the very end of the autostrada.

 

Green signs indicate the road is an autostrada

Driving Italian autostrada green sign

If you’re on a road indicated with green signs, you’re on an autostrada. If you’re not on an autostrada but are following green signs, they will lead you to the autostrada. If you’re on a road that looks pretty significant but the signs are blue, it’s not an autostrada – and it’s also not a toll road.

 

Pay attention to the speed limit when driving Italian autostrada

There seems to be a misconception that speed limits in Italy are high or that you can drive as fast as you want. Not so and be careful. Speed is monitored by cameras on the highways and tickets are issued automatically and sent to drivers (or car rental agencies) in the mail. Car rental agencies will add their own processing fee to any ticket you receive as a driver.

Driving Italian autostrada speed limit

 

 

The further left you are, the faster you should go.

Driving Italian autostrada minimum speed limit

If you want to go slower or are not actively passing anyone, move to the right. If you’re hanging out in the left lane and not passing anybody, Italian drivers will often aggressively zoom right up behind you. It’s their way of telling you to move over.  The blue signs with white numerals are minimum speeds for that lane.  Maximum speed limit signs are red-framed circles, with black numerals on white background.  Observance of these minimum speeds is extremely important.

 

Don’t miss the Autogrill

Driving Italian autostrada Autogrill rest stop

The Autogrill rest station is not an old boring highway rest stop. It has wonderful sandwiches, great coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and even cool little souvenirs. Oh, and you can fill the car with gas and use the restroom as well. When I drive on the autostrada I always look forward to my Autogrill stops – really. When I was a guest on the Eye on Italy podcast and was asked about my Italy “pick”, I chose the Autogrill. Here’s a photo of an awesome panino from one of my Autogrill stops, yum.

 

 

Getting fuel

Filling the car with petrol if you’re driving on the autostrada is pretty simple. The pumps are self-service (“fai da te”) and easy to use. Note that if you’re using a credit card, Italy has moved to a PIN number credit card system, so if your credit card doesn’t have a PIN, have a debit card ready just in case. I have been able to use my credit card at some petrol stations while others asked for a PIN and in that case I pulled out my debit card. (More on a money strategy for your Italy trip.)

Driving Italian autosrada gas petrol station

 

Look how easy it is: instructions with clear images and at this station (which was halfway between Milan and Venice) there’s even an English translation.

 

Driving Italian autostrada gas station

 

Brush up on your Italian road signs

Do your own research or read my post on Italian road signs so you know how to recognize a speed limit sign, a right of way sign and others, before you start driving in Italy. They may look different than what you’re used to, and these days if you get a fine, it may be snapped from a camera, mailed to your car rental agency, and forwarded to you with a processing fee (which in my case was just taken off my credit card along with car rental charges). Don’t expect signs to be in English; most road signs are just symbols or are in Italian like the sign below. This sign tells drivers that in case of fog, the speed limit is 40 kilometers per hour.

 

Driving Italian autostrada road signs

 

And finally, what everyone wants to know: Will I see a Ferrari?

Keep your eye out, you just never know!

Driving Italian autostrada Ferrari

 

All photos by Madeline Jhawar


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24 Comments

  1. dogtags
    July 30, 2013

    Regarding the speed limits and the photo: The blue signs with white numerals are MINIMUM speeds for that lane. LIMITS are red-framed circles, with black numerals on white background. Observance of these MINIMUM speeds is extremely important on European motorways.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      July 30, 2013

      dogtags – Thanks so much for your comment! I’ve updated the post to include this information as you’ve described it very clearly.

      Reply
  2. Alin
    December 26, 2013

    Funny thing about that Ferrari is that it’s from Romania, Bucharest to be more precise. Probably bought from dilapidated European funds for “poor” country of Romania :)

    Reply
  3. Madeline
    December 26, 2013

    Alin I had not noticed that, good eye!

    Reply
  4. Cristi Mihai
    March 2, 2014

    Hello. You might see a lot of Ferrari but that you’ve seen is from Bucharest Romania , it’s not an italian driver :)))))))))))))))

    Reply
  5. Z M
    March 7, 2014

    Thanks! Can you please tell me how much is the cost for the toll roads?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      March 7, 2014

      ZM, the amount of the toll depends on the distance you travel. Go to http://www.viamichelin.com and plug in your route and it will calculate the cost of the toll (and also the cost of gas).

      Reply
  6. S Hearst
    March 23, 2014

    Thanks so much for this article. We are driving from Malpensa (Milan) to Assisi, which is a difficult place to get to. Would have flown in but could not find a flight. The Michelin site mapped it all out and provided the cost in tolls and gas. What a wonderful thing to know ahead of time!

    Reply
  7. Whacked88
    May 9, 2014

    A Ferrari?

    Screw that, I want to see a Lamborghini!

    Reply
  8. Kirsten
    May 21, 2014

    Hi Madeline

    We had the same problem going through a Telepass by accident on our recent holiday. We are now back in the UK and battling to pay or get in contact with anyone who can even speak english.

    Any advice you may be able to give us on this??

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Madeline
      May 21, 2014

      Hi Kirsten, I don’t know what advice to give you here because I was able to navigate the system in Italian which still wasn’t easy! You may not need to worry about it, then again, if it were me I would document everything I tried to do – if you have emails that’s perfect – and bring the documentation with you on your next trip so you have proof that you tried to pay. If it was a hired car you can also ask the car rental company for advice.

      Reply
  9. Ron S
    June 2, 2014

    Beware of thieves at Autostrada rest areas!

    Last week, our rental car was broken into (screwdriver-ed the driver’s side door lock) and computers, cameras, lenses, money, a passport, backpacks, etc. were stolen. Leave nothing very portable within any car parked at any of these rest stops.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      June 2, 2014

      Ron I’m so sorry to hear that – what a way to ruin a great vacation :-( Thank you for sharing this very important point though with excellent advice to readers! Car break-ins are unfortunately non uncommon in Italy, so readers: NEVER leave anything of value in the car — even if you’re running in to the bathroom for five minutes. That means also putting your GPS in the glove compartment.

      Reply
      • Madeline
        June 2, 2014

        I should clarify: Never leave anything of value *visible* in the car. If you put everything in the trunk, completely concealed so that the car looks empty, that works. Just don’t give thieves a reason to break in.

        Reply
  10. Andrew
    June 25, 2014

    Really helpful Madeleine – useful info especially about security. On the ViaMichelin site they give suggested journey times – have you found these to be generaly accurate, or over / under estimated. thanks again

    Reply
    • Madeline
      June 25, 2014

      Hi Andrew, glad you found it helpful! ViaMichelin is great for suggested journey times, and usually more accurate than google maps, though the latter has gotten better over the last couple years.

      Reply
  11. Jan
    July 9, 2014

    Haha, that Ferrari actually has a ROMANIAN license plate! :)

    Reply
  12. John
    July 19, 2014

    I have used Autogrills all over Europe as a lorry driver. I will not use them unless I have to. They are overpriced and the food is crap. Pull off the motorways in any European country and look for a full truck park, that is where you will find good food at a good price

    Reply
  13. Peejay
    August 1, 2014

    Hi Madeline, really helpful info here, we’re travelling to Italy in September with our touring caravan for the F1 at Monza then on to San Marino for the MotoGP, I’m a little unsure about your info on fuel fill ups, can you simply fill up as much as you want and then pay at the booth in cash? I always prefer to take cash and not use cards whenever possible, grateful for your help!

    Reply
  14. Driver
    September 10, 2014

    Italian Police is well knowen as a Tourists Cash Extortion most effcective tool

    Reply
    • Madeline
      September 10, 2014

      @Driver, sorry I completely disagree with you here. No need to be overly concerned about this in Italy. If you want to keep your cash, watch for train station gypsies and pickpockets in crowded places!

      Reply
  15. Edward Pouchet
    September 17, 2014

    I was under the impression that you could use either cash OR
    a credit/debit card to pay tolls [same lane] [Another GOOGLE
    search result shows this.]

    Can you use a card?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      September 17, 2014

      Edward, I know you can definitely use credit cards in *some* places but I would not count on it, and travel with zero cash on hand.

      First, Italian credit cards have smart chips (they no longer use signatures) with PIN numbers and if your card does not have a smart chip it can be rejected. (In this case, try using your debit card).

      Second, some of the tolls are very small amounts, like a euro or two, and in many cases in Italy you cannot use credit cards for such small amounts. So, I’m sure the google search result you found is not incorrect, and you very likely can get away with using a credit card, but don’t count on it 100%. Sort of a wishy washy answer I know :-) but that’s Italy.

      Reply
      • Edward Pouchet
        September 17, 2014

        Thanks for your response. I do plan on having Euros on hand and would always use cash for small amounts, anyway.
        I now have two cards with “chips”. [When I mentioned my trip to one card issuer but that I would be using it less because they did not have a chip - replacement cards with chips were rushed to me!!]

        Reply

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