Read This Before Driving in Italy

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Driving in Italy can be a delight. Cruising down narrow country roads through the vineyards and hills of Tuscany is a wonderful way to experience the Italian countryside, and the only real way to see this part of Italy. Driving through the center of ancient cities and small, narrow hill towns, however, is not an enjoyable, or advisable, experience. If your itinerary calls for reaching some out of the way places, go ahead and rent a car, but do your homework before you go. There are some important differences that you should prepare for when driving in Italy.

  • Headlights are required to be on at all times, even during the day.

  • Right turns at a red light are ILLEGAL. That’s right, you cannot turn right until the light is green. Be patient.

  • Historic downtown areas of cities often require a permit to drive in. If you encounter signs stating “zona traffic limitato” you should likely turn around. These ZTL areas are off-limits unless you have the right permit, which you likely don’t. Usually, these areas are quite obviously not advisable to enter in the first place, as the signs are placed just outside the entrances where the road turns narrow, enters through ancient city walls, turns to cobblestone, etc., etc. Cameras monitor these areas and will send fines to you in your home country if you disobey.

  • Instead of police patrols monitoring roads you will see speed cameras. It is best to always drive within the speed limit to avoid a surprise ticket when you get back home.

  • Signs point towards cities or landmarks, not points on the compass. You won’t see exits to head north, south, east, or west, for example, but rather signs will point to the nearest town. Study the towns and landmarks along your route, or better yet, use a GPS.

  • Speaking of GPS, you likely don’t need to rent one with your car. It will be expensive, and won’t work as well as what you’re used to using on your phone app. Instead, sign up for an international cell phone plan with your carrier. The major carriers offer plans that charge a flat fee, approximately $10 per day, allowing you to use your normal message and data rates after that. Use this strategically for GPS on days when you need it, then leave your phone in airplane mode on other days when you don’t, and you won’t be charged. GPS is wonderful, but don’t place blind faith in it either. Towns or addresses can be named very similarly, and the GPS could direct you to ZTL areas where you shouldn’t be driving. Plan before you leave, then use it as a general guide.

  • Technically, you are required to carry an International Driving Permit along with your national Drivers License. I have never been asked to present one, even when picking up my car from the rental agency, but if you are pulled over or in an accident and don’t have one you could incur a fine. Also, be sure to carry your passport with you while driving in addition to your national license.

Overall, there is no reason to be anxious or nervous about driving in Italy. Stay calm, drive safely and cautiously, do your research before you leave, and you will have a wonderful trip. Caio!