Tips on driving Italian Autostrada or toll roads

[This is an excerpt from our Driving in Italy ebook, which you can download for free here]

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

Note for UK residents: you can rent a toll device in the UK and bring it with you to Italy.

The company Tolltickets rents toll devices for both short term usage and long term usage. The company ships the device to customers in the UK or they can pick them up at Stop24 on the M20. The company also rents toll devices for France, Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia.

 

All photos by Madeline Jhawar


Italy Beyond the Obvious will help make your trip truly memorable. Take advantage of our Italy trip planning services for a customized itinerary, or get coaching assistance with our Italy travel consulting services. And if you like what you read, why not subscribe to the Italy Beyond the Obvious blog and get free updates?

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Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Driving | 57 Comments

57 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
    • tony
      June 15, 2015

      you can now get a telepass, for Italian motorways, which works the same as for French motorways. it sits in your windscreen, and allows you to zip through, it costs roughly £30, and you pay a month later, out of your English bank account, hope this helps anybody interested

      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
    • Lance
      April 24, 2016

      We just got back from Europe and I drove all over Italy for 10 days in a Fiat 500L.
      Milan to Lake Como, then to Verona, then to Florence and Lucca and Santa Margherita and back to Milan. 1500km which was very easy as we had sorted a relevant GPS for that period and really enjoyed the independence. Suggest to get familiar with the Toll gates and you’ll be good to go. Enjoy your trip

      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
  16. matteo
    December 23, 2014

    Regarding the last one: the green square with a number is the suggested speed. It means: “when it’s foggy the suggested speed is 40km/h”. The speed limit is decreased to 110 km/h if you can still see far enough, otherwise it becomes 50km/h

    Reply
    • Steve
      February 1, 2016

      LOL, dove from Milan to Forli before Christmas on the autostrada and then up to Bologna to catch flight home for Christmas. Both times I could see as far as the lights penetrated in the fog and traffic was still going 140kph. A few times looking in the mirror all I could see was the roof of the car behind. Comment from Italian friends, the cameras don’t work in the fog!

      Italian drivers must some of the worst I have encountered. The only lane they use sort of properly on the auotstrada is the left lane. Even then you see people cruising in it. Three lanes? They stick to the middle. Four or more? They stick in lane 3. I will pass on the right now! Sick of moving all the way over.

      Indicators? They have no idea or just cant be bothered most of the time. Roundabouts. Use any lane and exit from any lane without indicating.

      Speed limits? Do 50kph in town and everyone will pass you.

      Its a right laugh but once you shrug your shoulders, accept it and just follow on its fine.

      Reply
  17. John Christman
    January 7, 2015

    When traveling on roads other than autostrada, always know the nearest towns of size in opposing directions. This is important when an SSS, SS or (usually an S) forks and no direction is listed, only town names. This normally occurs in smaller towns and areas away from metro areas.

    Reply
  18. Fred Kirchner
    January 27, 2015

    Your tips on how to use the autostrada in Italy is lacking some necessary information. That would be what to do when you get to a toll booth that is not manned but fully automated. I had the misfortune to stop at two of these toll booths. Neither had instructions in English nor did they tell how much to pay and where to deposit the money. Very frustrating and it leaves you in fear of being stopped by the Carabinieri and issued a hefty ticket. I later found out that they will automatically take a snapshot of your car’s license plate and send an invoice incl. fine to the car’s owner.
    Why can’t the Italians have some respect for drivers that don’t speak or read Italian and have instructions in at least one other language: English. Most Europeans – with the exception of Italians – understand some English.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      January 28, 2015

      Thanks for your comment Fred. I haven’t seen a manned toll booth in quite a while, I think the vast majority are not manned and fully automated. The reason they don’t tell you how much to pay is because you need to put your ticket in the machine first. Once the machine reads your ticket (the one you got when you pushed the “biglietto” button when you entered the autostrada), it calculates the amount you need to pay based on the distance you traveled.

      The exception is when you arrive upon a toll booth and you haven’t picked up a ticket. These toll booths ask everyone to pay a fixed fee, and it is prominently displayed, and is usually a small amount like a euro or two.

      I find your comment about Italians having some respect for drivers that don’t speak or read Italian a bit puzzling. Why should Italians cater to drivers who don’t speak Italian? If they do, it’s a bonus, but foreigners in Italy should be prepared to deal with a foreign language and all that entails, it’s not the job of the Italians to make things user-friendly for non Italian speakers.

      Reply
      • Colin
        August 16, 2015

        Why would they cater to non Italians……??? I live in Canada and I GUARANTEE you that an Italian driver is 100% ‘on their own’ as to ‘instructions’ on our highways! Including fuel pumps!! As the old saying goes…. “When in Roma”……:) lol I take the time to learn all these things, as well as some basic language skills, and about various customs. I chose to come to your country, and it is simple courtesy to figure out how your country works before I do!

        Reply
    • Rodrigo
      July 9, 2016

      I’m sure in your country every sign is in English and Italian right?

      Reply
  19. Catz
    January 29, 2015

    I would just like to add that as someone who has been driving from the uk to the South of Italy for the last 30 years there really is not as much aggression as people think if you understand the reason for certain behaviour. We have to realise that different countries have different ways of doing things which we may perceive as aggressive but in fact if you do what the Italians do it is not aggression at all just someone asking you to move out of the way. When travelling in the fast lane of the motorway cars that want to overtake often come up very close behind you – all you have to do is move out of their way into the middle lane and they just drive on without aggression. If you follow this advice you will see that your driving experience becomes more enjoyable and there is no aggression and if you want to do it you can too. It is just their way of doing it and obviously not what we do here.

    Reply
  20. Anonymous
    March 12, 2015

    Really a great post…just planning for a short trip to Italy in a month or so…It ll help us in deed….Thanks…..

    Reply
  21. Basim
    May 10, 2015

    Great Post
    Thank you

    Reply
  22. farshad
    May 14, 2015

    Are gas prices different for cash vs credit or debit card?
    Thanks

    Reply
  23. Talmiz
    May 26, 2015

    Hello Madeline,

    Thanks for a nice information. Here is something more to add when we talk specifically about tolls and which lane to follow while entering a toll
    Lanes marked with a yellow T:
    Almost all lanes are marked with this “T”. It allows fully automated use with a Telepass.
    Caution!
    Very often there are extra lanes reserved exclusively for Telepass (yellow lanes). As a rule, these lanes begin many hundred metres ahead of the toll station and allow you to drive on past the queues at the manual toll booths.

    Yellow lanes (no personnel) :
    Used exclusively with Telepass.
    Blue lane (no personnel):
    Automat for credit cards and VIAcard only
    White lanes (without personnel!) :
    Automat for cash, credit cards and VIAcard
    White lanes with personnel:
    Cash, credit cards and VIAcard

    Reply
    • Daniel
      June 14, 2015

      Great information here! Been to Italy many times, but this will be my first time driving by myself, so you have really answered most of my questions! Thanks so much. However, I do have one question. I’ve ordered the Telepass, ,which seems to include the VIA card. I understand that the Telepass box goes on my dash, but what do I do with the VIA card? And if I have the Telepass, do I still need to take a biglietto when I first get on the Autostrada? Or is it all automatic with the Telepass? Thanks alot!

      Reply
      • Madeline
        June 14, 2015

        Daniel — good questions. I have never used a Telepass but have ridden with many friends who have one, and you don’t take a ticket, you go through the automatic Telepass lane instead. I believe the VIA card is for the tolls that don’t have Telepass – you put it in the machine and it debits your Telepass account. I am not 100% sure on that though – if someone is reading this and can confirm or deny either way that would be great. Meanwhile I will check…

        Reply
        • Francesco
          June 21, 2015

          Hi Madeline,

          I’m Italian and I’m also a passionate driver, so I know this kind of stuff pretty well 🙂

          You’re almost right – the Viacard that comes with the Telepass box is just an alternative way to pay the toll with the same result (toll gets debited on the same account as the Telepass). To my knowledge, every single italian toll booth is equipped with Telepass transponders. So what’s the point in having a Viacard as well, you may ask? Well, actually in Italy this kind of combination is reserved to business customers (which may have specific requirements, such as using different vehicles at the same time, etc.) while individuals have just the Telepass box, without the associated Viacard. I’m not sure why they use to sell the Telepass+Viacard combo to foreign users, I guess it’s because of something linked to fiscal agreements with foreign banks… anyway I’m 99.9% sure you can just use the Telepass and forget about the Viacard, or just take it with you just in case 🙂

          By the way, this is an official page by the “Autostrade” company which covers pretty much every single aspect of the toll payment, you may want to add it to your blog post:
          http://www.autostrade.it/en/il-pedaggio/pagamento-al-casello
          I think it’s quite useful and clear (keep in mind that some toll booths across Italy may not display the EXACT signs represented here, but the differences should be trivial).

          Should you have any questions, feel free to ask me 🙂

          Reply
          • Madeline
            June 21, 2015

            Thank you for the detailed and useful information Francesco!

          • Chris
            November 6, 2015

            I’m planning to drive down to Italy for a couple of weeks next June and thought a Telepass would help as I’m on my own and would otherwise have to get out of the car to collect my ticket and again to pay the fee. However, from reading the official site it suggests the 21 day Telepass starts 5 days from when it is dispatched to the UK which is useless as I will be taking some time to drive through Germany, Switzerland etc. I want it to start the day first drive into Italy. Is that possible?

  24. Our Italian rental car experience | off the main drag
    August 6, 2015

    […] Italy Beyond the Obvious […]

    Reply
    • Madeline
      August 6, 2015

      Great tips about your rental car experience. I was nodding along while reading (although haven’t heard of 25 euros / hour for parking – crazy!) and then got to the part where you wrote that it sounded dramatic and over cautious. Sounded like perfectly normal, level-headed advice to me, LOL. I have been doing this too long maybe 🙂

      Reply
  25. Peter
    September 26, 2015

    I was driving to Naples Airport on a Sunday afternoon. The toll entrance Portico Erolano appeared to be wide open and I couldn’t see anywhere to pay; assuming it was open on a Sunday I drove on (as were others). Four months later I have been debited Euro 61 by the hire company! The attached advice said that the total fee was Euro 5.10; the remainder appears to be a handling fee by Sicily by Car!
    I had the change ready but don’t know what else I could have done. Tourist trap for what must have been about 3km of motorway use.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      September 26, 2015

      Peter sorry to hear that! A handling fee is completely normal however and is added by virtually every car rental company if the driver receives a fine. I don’t remember the Porto Ercolano toll specifically but I can assure you it has nothing to do with a tourist trap. I have also received fines in the post – with handling fees added by car rental companies – for things I would love to contest if I had the opportunity. Maybe they will use the money collected to improve the signage 🙂

      Reply
  26. Alan Cope
    April 18, 2016

    It would be useful to know how much the tolls are?
    For example from Fiumicino Airport to Perugia, are we talking 10, 20, 30 , 50 Euros?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      April 18, 2016

      You can calculate the tolls for your exact route on ViaMichelin.com but to give you a ballpark guesstimate for FCO to Perugia, it’s in the 10 – 20 euro range, and my guess is closer to 10.

      Reply
  27. Autostrade Telepass | Newsintern
    April 26, 2016

    […] Tips on driving Italian Autostrada or toll roads […]

    Reply
  28. FuddleDudd
    June 29, 2016

    My advice to Americans. Do not dress like an American. Do not sound like an American.

    I asked a friend of mine:”Young Italiens, mostly speak English, yet I still see ppl shrugging sholders, shaking their heads and pretending ignorance. Why is that?”

    His answer: “Americans!. You get tired being told what a backwards, corrupt, dirty, ignorant country italy is. Yes, we still have problems, but we know about them. We don’t like being told stuff – like as if we are retarded.”

    Besides, its fun to mess with rude Americans. Always has been, always will be!

    Reply
  29. OttoVonOtto
    August 4, 2016

    I just returned from a driving tour of Milano-Alba-the Barolo region and found the tips here quite useful. Thanks for providing the resource!

    Reply
    • Madeline
      August 31, 2016

      Great to hear, Otto, and thanks for coming back to post your comment.

      Reply
  30. susan
    August 31, 2016

    We will have a rental car in Italy for 2 weeks traveling from Rome, then all around Tuscany and then ending up in Venice. We won’t be able to avoid all toll roads. Do you have to pay cash Euro or can you use credit card? Also I read that US citizens renting a car can apply for a Telepass with VIA card for a short time but you pay a 9% service fee on top of the tolls? Is this true?

    What do you recommend for short term travel? Just get in the right line and pay the toll in cash?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      August 31, 2016

      For 2 weeks definitely just get in the right line and pay the toll in cash. Many of the tolls are very small amounts and you couldn’t use a credit card anyway, even at the (few) toll booths that accept them.

      Reply
  31. Lance
    September 15, 2016

    Great post, my family and I are traveling next year to Europe and driving around starting in Milan, Padua and Venice then the neighboring countries. Driving in Italy is my worries because of this toll gates, non-English road signs and aggressive drivers. Thank you for your post.

    Reply

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