We just turned our brand-new Alfa Romeo Giulia in at Pisa Airport. Perhaps some of you have been planning an Italian vacation and are contemplating whether or not to rent a car. Driving in Italy is (mostly) not difficult and there’s no reason to be intimidated, but there are several things to consider before taking the plunge.
The first question I would ask is “Do you really need a car?” Often the answer is “No.” We use public transportation whenever possible. In some rural areas this may not be practical, but in most cities a car is a liability and not an asset. You’ll have to figure out where to park, which can be an expensive proposition, and beyond that you may have to deal with less-than-patient drivers, unfamiliar traffic laws, as well as the dreaded ZTLs (more on that in just a moment).
If you do decide to drive you’ll need an IDP – an International Driving Permit. In my opinion this is an absolutely useless document that contains a translation of your license, but if you should happen to be stopped for another infraction the Italian law enforcement agency will want to see it. Your rental car company may, or may not ask for it as well.
Before you purchase additional insurance for your rental car you may want to check with your credit card company, personal insurance, or an agency such as AAA if you’re a member. You may already have extra coverage, and it’s good to know before you pay for something you don’t need.
Familiarize yourself with Italian traffic signs and laws before your trip. A speeding ticket or ZTL infraction can considerably add to the cost of your vacation!
If you’re not familiar with the term, a ZTL is a zone that is limited to local resident travel. Posted traffic cameras photograph the plates of cars entering the ZTL. If you do not have the proper permit, your rental car company will receive notice of the infraction and you will have to pay a fine, which can be quite hefty. Do you really have to pay it? Yes you do!! I’m posting a link to an excellent explanation from At Home In Tuscany.
I’ve heard horror stories of unsuspecting foreigners racking up many hundreds of euros in fines circling through the same ZTL over and over again looking for their hotel or parking lot. They receive their notice many months after the infraction. Ignorance of Italian law is not an excuse. It’s our responsibility to understand local laws and traffic signs.
My advice: do your homework first! Find out where the ZTLs are by Googling the city or town you will be visiting, and make sure you contact your hotel or apartment owner in advance if a permit must be issued.
The same applies to speed limits. Years ago speed limits were rarely enforced in Italy, but that is no longer the case. The Italian authorities have discovered what Americans have long known: ticketing speeders is a great source of revenue. Unless posted otherwise, speed limits are 130kph (80 mph) on the autostrada, 110kph (68mph) on non-major highways, and 90kph (56mph) on local roads. Speed cameras on the Autostrada system are clearly marked, but there are also some stretches that are timed between tolls – the Tutor system. If you’ve gone too fast you’ll be fined. We’ve seen even small towns with fixed radar cameras alongside the road. Locals in the know are aware – tourists are not, so be careful if you’ve got a heavy right foot! Here are a couple of links that may help you recognize the speed traps:
There’s an excellent blog from Italy Beyond The Obvious that’s full of good info for driving on the Autostrada. I urge you to check it out. They also have an e-book you can download for free from their website.
A few final thoughts: Keep to the right except when passing!!! Unlike in the US, Italians are very serious about lane discipline. Don’t be offended if a faster driver gets right on your rear bumper. It’s just the way they do things. Hopefully you’ll already be out of the way. Pay attention and use your turn signals and your Italian driving experience should be just fine.
|Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994.
In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.