There are a ton of resources on the web about Italian driving laws, but that doesn’t really prepare you for the Italian driving experience. In the last year I’ve driven hundreds of kilometers throughout Italy in tiny rentals, large moving vans and now in our car. I grew up driving in Los Angeles. It has made operating a vehicle in multiple countries around the globe a breeze, except for Italy… they do things very differently. These are my observations on what it is like to drive in this lovely county.
In general, just as in some states in the U.S., the left lane is a passing lane. If you are driving in the left lane, regularly check your rear view mirrors because cars who intend to pass you will flash their lights. Be forewarned that Italians can be very aggressive drivers and will not only flash their lights, but will also pull up to within inches of your bumper while traveling 70+ kilometers an hour until you move out of the way.
Many westerners are not familiar with the rules for roundabouts, if you are in the turn you have the right of way. Even thought the same laws apply in Italy, no one abides by it. It’s basically a free-for-all and you have to force your way through.
I love Italy and Italians but they rarely use indicators (signals) whether they are changing lanes or turning. If you see someone using an indicator, they are either not a local or accidentally hit the indicator while they were talking with their hands.
Lanes or Lack thereof
As I mentioned previously, if someone is planning to change lanes don’t expect their indicators to be on. In fact, you will periodically see drivers slowly veer into random lanes or create their own. It is very common to see vehicles drive in the middle of two lanes for extended periods of time.
In Italy, double parking is a fact of life you have to come to terms with. I have seen people, in rush hour traffic, block a lane by double parking so they can grab a pastry or gelato. This is one of the main times you will see people use their hazard lights, so the can stop in the middle of the road to enter a storefront.
I thought texting while driving in Los Angeles was an epidemic in but they got nothing on Italy. 8 out of 10 people I’ve seen driving have also been texting. I’ve seen people on motorbikes texting while driving with one hand. Be very aware of your surroundings because chances are they wont see you.
Scooters and Motor Bikes
These motorist reign supreme on city streets and you always have to be on the lookout for them. People on scooters will do anything they can to drive around waiting in traffic. I’ve driven down narrow roads and had scooters flank me from both sides simultaneously. If traffic is backed up they will drive down the oncoming traffics lane, facing the wrong direction, in order to get around. This is of paramount importance whenever you make a turn. At anytime a motor bike may decide to accelerate on either side of you, in a blind spot, while you are mid-turn. Every time I pull into my driveway, I triple check that no scooters are flanking me.
One very positive habit that Italian motorist practice is proper use of emergency lights on highways. If traffic is stopped or significantly slowing down, everyone will turn on hazard lights to inform other drivers to reduce their speed.
They have them but apparently no one understands their purpose or choose to ignore them. Be prepared for drivers to cut across center lanes to force their way in front of you in a turn. My car was crashed into exactly like this, someone in an outside lane cutting across traffic.
Now that I’ve thoroughly offended any Italians reading this blog, let me clarify. Cultural differences the world over vary and I’m in no position to judge how other societies have chosen to drive. Car accidents and vehicular fatalities are much higher in the United States than they are in Italy. In Los Angeles I witnessed daily accidents whereas I only occasionally see them in Italy. This post is to help others to acclimate to the driving culture in Italia. Italians may appear reckless drivers to an outsider but they make it work and as with everything else, they do it in style.