Driving in Italy: The Italian Job

 Today’s post is a guest post about driving in Italy. Thanks, Victoria! 

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driving Italy Val D'orcia Tuscany

Photo by Tommyscapes

Driving in Italy can often feel like a scene out of The Italian Job, whether you’re in the city or off the beaten path, but with a few tips, some Dutch courage, and bit of experience, you’ll be driving like an Italian in no time!

On a recent trip to the beautiful south of Italia, we decided to hire a car to have the freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and for as long as we wanted – and apart from a few hair-raising moments around the Amalfi Coast, it was well worth it!

Yes, the roads can be a bit bumpy, driving through villages is a test in manoeuvring and navigation, the mountain traverses are a tad harrowing, and the coastal tracks really only have room for one way traffic, but the Italians are actually very good drivers – albeit a bit too confident, speedy, and not very patient!

So, to make driving in Italy an enjoyable, safe, and worthwhile experience, here are a few things to know, and most importantly of all, don’t be nervous – they can smell fear a mile away!


What You Need if you’re driving in Italy

Whether you’ve hired or borrowed the car you’re driving in Italy, there are some things you are required to have in the vehicle at all times:

  • Driver’s licence; international permit; insurance papers; and car documents
  • A reflective safety vest
  • A warning triangle
  • Headlamp beam deflectors (either stickers or manually adjusted)

Things not legally required, but recommended for your comfort – and your passengers!

  • Have a good stash of coins for both parking meters and the regular toll booths
  • Sick bags – we warned you those roads can be really winding!
  • Water and snacks – if you’re going off the beaten track, weather, slips and hazards can delay your plans so always be prepared.


Italian Road Rules

The road rules in Italy are pretty much the same as anywhere else – including driving on the left like the U.S. and most of Europe (except the U.K), but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The default speed limit on the motorway (Autostrada) is 130 km/h (81 mph), 110 km/h (68 mph) on main roads outside of the cities, 90 km/h (56 mph) on secondary and local roads, and 50 km/h (31 mph) in the cities – but these speeds may vary so keep an eye on all the signs.
  • Give way to traffic coming from the right, except in urban areas where signs may have different instructions.
  • Car lights must be on at all times when driving outside of urban areas.
  • Cell phones are only allowed to be used with a headset or hands-free equipment.
  • If the police penalize you, they can collect a quarter of the maximum fine on-the-spot, but make sure you get a receipt.
  • Because of the historic nature of so many cities and towns in Italy, there are many restricted areas or reduced traffic zones (ZTL) so watch out for these, as you can be fined quite heavily.
  • If you find a parking spot on the street, celebrate! Then make sure you park between the blue lines. Most parking meters don’t apply overnight though.
  • There are plenty of parking garages available and they are the best option for your car overnight if your accommodation doesn’t have secure parking.
  • Fitted seat belts must be worn in the front and back at all times.
  • Just as in North America and the rest of Europe, car seats are required for children.

Italy Driving Etiquette

The following aren’t necessarily legal requirements, but are expected behaviors when driving in Italy:

  • It’s perfectly normal for cars to tailgate at fast speeds in Italy, so stick to the far right unless overtaking.
  • It’s also usual for cars behind to flash their lights at you if they want you to get out of the way – get used to it!
  • As with any motorway, never pass on the slow lanes – do what the Italians do and flash the person you’d like to overtake and hopefully they’ll move over so you can pass safely – in the left lane only.
  • With everything happening at such a fast pace, using your signals is really important for even the smallest manoeuvres.
  • Get a GPS or find out exactly where you’re going, as the Italian drivers don’t take kindly to dithering – mind you, who does?
  • Beware the moped – they’re everywhere, and often seem to come from nowhere!
  • If you are heading on a long journey, the best time to hit the roads is after lunch while the locals are having a siesta.

So, there you have it, a short introduction to the joys of driving in Italy. It’s like learning the language and getting some fun Italian facts about the place, a bit of time and effort can make the whole experience that much more enjoyable – and a trip to remember, not a holiday to forget!


Victoria is a self-confessed grammar geek. Based in London, she witnesses crimes against grammar on a daily basis. Words are her thing as Victoria is currently a journalist, writer for Listen & Learn, PR advisor, and Social Media guru.

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Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 in Driving | 2 Comments


  1. Christopher Boles
    August 29, 2014

    We rented a FIAT 500c for 4 days and wished we had kept it longer. Be sure you get a GPS as it was a lifesaver trying to navigate around Milan to get south towards Florence. With out it I am sure we would still be there driving around some of those traffic circles or as the GPS called them, a “cross-over”. Always have a huge handful of coins (no exaggeration) to pay the tolls at the booths. They are reasonable, but you don’t want to get caught with out any change. Some take paper, some take coins and most are manned. If you are out in the country and you get off you will most likely find an unmanned station that only takes coins.

    • Madeline
      August 29, 2014

      Great tips Christopher, thank you for your comment!


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