Planning the ultimate Italy road trip can be quite a daunting task.  Aggressive Italian drivers, roads that don’t make it on google maps, and limited traffic zones are just a few of the things you’ll encounter when driving in Italy.  Having the right to cruise the autostrada isn’t taken lightly. And, unlike many other countries which allow drivers to get their learners license at 16, in Italy the rules are stricter. Driving lessons in Italy don’t begin until you’re 18, and they’re obligatory for any Italian who wants to cruise the Bel Paese.

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A local’s travel tips for driving in Italy

Swipe my local insight! Having driven internationally, in both Canada and the US, you’ll discover the local nuances and must-know tips for driving in Italy.  This essential guide to driving in Italy will help you tackle even the most elaborate Italian road trip.  Don’t start planning your Italian road trip before reading these 13 travel tips for driving in Italy.

1. How to correctly use the passing lane

The passing lane is exactly that – a passing lane. Italians take passing very seriously. The left lane on the highway is strictly just for that. When driving in Italy you’re only allowed to stay in the left lane for as long as it is necessary to pass another vehicle. If you’re uncomfortable accelerating to the high speeds needed in order to pass, it’s recommended that you stay out of the left lane unless strictly necessary.  And if you do happen to make your way into the passing lane, don’t be surprised to find aggressive Italian drivers flashing you with their high beams.  This is what Italians do to signal you to get out of the left lane because they’re about to pass you and you’re going too slow. 

Pro Tip:  If you’re not comfortable with high speeds, flashing beams, then stay clear of the left lane because it is common practice for tickets to be issued for driving in the left lane if you’re not passing a car.

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2.  Italy’s Big Brother of Speed

Be aware of the speed limits when driving in Italy. Italy has some of the highest highway speed limits at 130kmh (80 mph) which are monitored by the “Safety Tutor” that checks your average speed every 10 km or so. This means there’s no escaping from a big fat speeding ticket. So even though you’ll rarely see police on the Autostrada, the Safety Tutor will be watching you.  And automatic speed checks don’t stop there!  Zipping down those countryside roads you’ll have to watch out for the orange boxes that will take a photo of your rental car slap you with a speeding ticket if you didn’t follow the rules.

Pro Tip:  To avoid kicking your vehicle into top gear, put it on cruise control instead.  This way you’ll skip any “additional charges”  from the rental company and avoid any unwanted “side-effects” from your Italian vacation.

3.  driving in Italy? You Need to Know what ztl means

If you dare drive in the larger cities or the city centers, be aware of the infamous ZTL : Zone of Limited Traffic. These zones are generally limited to residents and taxis and are monitored by cameras. If you enter the ZTL, the camera will register your vehicle, and you’ll be in for a big surprise when you return home when  your car rental company sends you a bill for the ticket.

Pro Tip: If you’re unsure where the borders of the ZTL end and begin, be on the lookout for any roads that are flanked with cameras. 

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4.  Beware of the Telepass

Paying for tolls on the highway is easy, but knowing which lane to enter is key. Unless you have a Telepass, you’ll want to avoid the yellow exits & enterways marked with a sign stating “Telepass”.  This section of the tolls is reserved for Telepass customers only and you will not be able to enter or exit through this passage unless you’re a Telepass holder.  When you come in contact with a toll make sure you only approach stations with blue signs on them, to avoid any embarrassment of holding up traffic.

Pro Tip: Always carry cash. Not all toll stations accept credit cards and many of them are automatic and take bills up to 50 euros.

 

5.  prepare for mixed signals

It is sad to admit but many Italians aren’t too keen on using their signals, especially when it comes to changing lanes on the highway. To avoid any fender benders, always assume that people do not know where their signals are located in their car.  This can be stressful, but by being forewarned you’ll be able to drive with extra caution and it will hopefully save you some grief. 

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6.  Consider learning to drive stick

The majority of cars in Italy are standard stick shift.  That means that the majority of rental cars available to you are also standard and that renting an automatic vehicle will come at a premium.  Don’t have the time to learn to drive a stick? Make sure you request an automatic vehicle well in advance.

Pro-tip:   Read your rental agreement very carefully. Many rental companies DO NOT GUARANTEE an automatic vehicle will be available.  

7.  BUDGET FOR PASTA & an international drivers license 

To avoid unnecessary questioning by the Italian police, get yourself an international driver’s permit.  This will avoid any confusion if you happen to get pulled over at a random check (Yes, it’s true you don’t have to be caught speeding to get pulled over in Italy). 

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8.  DIFFERENT COUNTRY, DIFFERENT Rules for driving in Italy

In the United States some cities, like New York, prohibit turning right on red while the rest of the country allows it.  For New Yorkers there’s no need to adapt, but if you’re coming from a state or country where turning right on a red is allowed, it’ll take some time getting used to. In all regions of Italy turning right on red is ALWAYS illegal, no exceptions.

9.  Forget about driving in Italy without a GPS

Even as a seasoned Italian driver I use a GPS.  Driving in Italy can be tricky with all the narrow one-way streets, and sometimes they don’t even make it on Google maps!  To avoid the dreaded “I am lost and I need to ask a local – in a language you don’t speak”  make sure you rent a car with a GPS or use your smartphone.  This will save you a lot of time, help you avoid the unnecessary embarrassment of getting lost and fumbling over your non-existent Italian. 

Pro-tip:  When opting for using your phone as a GPS make sure that before you leave home your plan offers adequate roaming.  If you forgot to get coverage before leaving then simply hop into a Wind, TIM or Vodafone store and pick up a prepaid Italian SIM card. This will save you the dreaded high cost of roaming charges.

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10.  Mind the Blue lines when driving in Italy

If you don’t want to pay for parking then stay clear of the blue lines. This is a general rule that applies to most of the country. If you’re happy to pay then just remember to find the nearest pay station. Most of these stations take credit cards and payment can be made by downloading an app (similar to Easy Park). However, more than often many of these machines only take cash, so it is recommended that you always carry some coins.  No coins? No problem!  Look for areas marked with white lines.  This generally signifies that you can park for free.

Pro Tip:  It isn’t just the blue lines that you have to worry about.  If you see sidewalks marked with yellow this usually signals resident only parking and should be avoided unless you want a hefty fine or your vehicle towed.  

 

11.  Rules of Free Parking in Italy

Nothing comes for free, and when it comes to driving in Italy this is surely the case.  If you’re lucky enough to find some free parking make sure you don’t just park and leave.  In Italy, each vehicle is required to mark its time of arrival with a paper clock on your vehicle’s dashboard.  So even if you’ve scooped up a free parking spot, don’t forget to indicate your time of arrival and be aware of the time limits placed on your parking stall.

12.  Choose your fuel wisely

Always check what fuel your rental vehicle runs on.  You’ll find that most cars in Italy use diesel, but be sure to check before filling up.  When filling up in Italy, you’ll see the type of fuel is usually indicated on the pump itself with black usually indicating diesel and green indicating gasoline. 

 

13.  Why Driving in Italy on Sunday is the best choice for the longest leg of your trip

The last tip for driving in Italy, which is often overlooked is that transportation vehicles and large semi trucks (aside from milk and gas trucks) are prohibited from driving on Sunday. If you have a long leg of your trip planned and want the most relaxing day to drive then Sunday is your best choice.  You’ll find the roads are generally much less congested on Sunday making a long day of driving much more bearable, enjoyable, and safe.

 

NOT driving in Italy MEANS YOU’LL MISS A WHOLE LOT OF BEAUTIFUL

Planning a road trip across the boot isn’t only time consuming, but it can also be dangerous if you’re not used to aggressive Italian drivers.  Old habits die hard and it isn’t always easy to switch from how you drive in your own country to driving in Italy like a local. However, if you choose not to take the risk of driving, you’ll miss out on some of the best experiences Italy has to offer. This includes visiting Italy’s interior filled with stunning scenery, amazing local wineries, and some of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages

Want to sit back and relax on your Italian vacation?  Click here to check our small group Italy tours that take you from Italy’s Adriatic coast to eating among the locals in Le Marche’s Truffle country.

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