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Raymond Lamothe Facebook


Homepage > Blog > Blog DRIVING IN ITALY

What to do and what to watch out for while driving through Italy.

Driving in Italy or in any of the European countries is not the terrifying experience some people think it is. With the developing of the Common Market, for example, a license that is valid in one country is valid in all the EEC countries and, theoretically, the road signs and symbols are supposed to be the same in each country. I write theoretically, because the written parts are usually in each country’s language and this can cause confusion when you are facing some unfamiliar symbol with writing underneath it. For drivers coming from non-EEC countries, an international driver’s permit, or in some cases, a multi-lingual translation of the license is necessary. These you usually obtain from the Automobile Clubs of your native country.

Italian roads are basically divided into three types: the large 4 to 6 lane highways, which are called autostrade and are all Toll roads; the smaller 2 to 4 lane superstrade, which generally connect internal cities within regions and are toll-free; and then the normal, larger or smaller, better or worse kept, two lane provincial or town roads (the upkeep here depends on how much money each province has to spend), and these are also always toll-free.

Driving inside our cities is not any different from driving in cities in other countries: traffic is traffic and you need to be careful. The only advice I want to give you is to follow the bullseye symbol with “Centro” written on it as it will lead you to the center of the town or city, where there are usually parking areas and also tourist information booths available to help you out. 90% of public parking areas charge by the hour.

What you need to be wary of are the various radar traps and other contraptions devised to catch you if you are speeding and that will inevitably issue fines and tickets that will be sent to you automatically. Believe me when I assure you that they will catch up with you sooner or later and no matter where you live. Computers, international police internet systems and globalization have taken care of this rather well.

Here are some pointers. In Italy you need to drive with your seatbelts fastened at all times and children need to be in the back seats and babies in proper baby seats in the back also. In Italy, you need to keep your headlights on even during the day on all Autostrade and Superstrade and on the longer Provincial roads (they are marked by signs with SS(and a number). For example, the back road connecting Florence and Siena is called SS222 Chiantigiana. You only need to keep your parking lights on in the cities and towns.

And, last but not least, do be careful not to enter areas which have indications that you need a permit to go through them or that have a sign showing a pedestrian-only area. Until a few years ago, these areas of the cities and towns actually had a “vigile” (traffic warden), stationed in front of them and he would stop you before you made the error of entering an off-limits area. Now there is only a sign posted, and if you enter without a permit, cameras throughout the area take pictures of your car and license plate and then you receive the fine or fines a few months later. There is no appeal to these citations. A client of ours last year thought that nobody would notice her driving the 200 meters through a corner of pedestrian zone in Siena twice a day. She was very surprised to receive a 2.000,00 euro ($ 2,900.00) fine at her home in Connecticut 6 months after her holiday.

The speed traps are really pernicious: there are basically 4 kinds and you need to watch for them carefully. The first and easiest to spot is a large rectangular box on the side of the provincial and superstrada roads: it contains a speed sensor and a camera and if you are speeding, it will photograph your rear license plate and the fine will be sent to you. The second kind is the manned radar trap where traffic police set up the machine and if you are speeding, again, photo is taken of your license plate and fine sent. The third kind is rather malicious because it is attached to the stoplights in some of the busiest areas in the cities and it will photograph you if you are speeding up to pass through an orange light before it turns red. Again, fine sent home.

But the most ingenious device that currently is boosting the Italian government’s income is a thing called a TUTOR. This is a camera system mounted on the autostrade and it takes a photograph of cars as they go by in one particular spot of the road, and then takes a second photograph of cars as they go past a second point many kms later. It then calculates the time it took each car to go from point A to point B and extrapolates the speed of each car. If it determines that a car was driving above the speed limit, a really hefty fine is sent to your home, and as these are usually high speed violations, agreements between various countries make it so that a notification will be sent to your closest traffic warden’s office so they may decide to take away points from your driver’s license, or even take it away from you. These are the most difficult traps to avoid.

On another note, a few things I would like to suggest are that you avoid purchasing the VIACARD that is so promoted in the airports when you go to pick up your rental car. Basically, it is a credit card that you can use to pay the toll booths on the autostrade with and so avoid queuing. The problem is that they are sold with set amounts in them and if you buy one for 50 euros, but only use half that amount on the autostrade, the rest of the money you spent in the card is wasted. Do remember that you can pay the autostrade toll-booths with credit cards – easier and hassle-free.

My second suggestion is that you book your rental car early when you are planning your holiday and try to get the best deal possible – late bookings are always costlier. I also advise you to rent from one of the major companies such as Herts, Avis or Europcar because we have seen too many people enticed by an offer from some obscure rental car company, having to rent a second car because of a breakdown while the original rental company took days before coming to pick up the damaged vehicle. The large companies generally manage to resolve any problem in less than a day.

But, above all else, drive carefully. Remember that you are not rushing to get to work on time. You are on a holiday and the countryside is really worth enjoying while driving at a leisurely pace.



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