The Italian autostrada, major highways, can be a daunting experience. Also, with the general perception of Italian driving and the fact that the country is equipped with a great train system, most tourists don’t even consider to rent a car. We’re here to say, have no fear! The following are all you need to know to understand driving in Italy. So, if you’re considering renting a car, keep reading.
The most important thing when driving is, of course, fuel. The stations on the autostrada are mostly self-service and allow you to pay with a credit card. Some that have been updated may ask for a PIN number, so it’s safer to have a debit card ready if your credit card does not have a PIN. Filling up the tank is a pretty easy task so don’t be too worried about this part, it’s similar to self-service gas stations in other countries. The majority are but some stations are also not self-service. Be mindful that Italy uses the metric system, so your gas prices are measured in liters. Also, on the autostrada, gas prices are a minimum of 15–20% more expensive than others off this these particular highway roads.
This article wouldn’t be able Italy if it didn’t mention food! Going along with the typical perception of Italians and their food, even the rest stops have delicious treats. Sandwiches, coffee, and all your basics, even small trinkets are available at the Autogrill. A restroom and gas station is also available here. You may be surprised that you end up looking forward to these stops along your journey.
As you knoe, it’s a pretty common stereotype that Italians drive very fast. While there may be some truth to the craziness of some drivers, it’s true of anywhere. And speed is actually monitored fairly well on the autostrada.
Speed cameras line the highways and tickets are sent automatically to car owners. If you are renting a car, the agency will not only charge you for the speeding ticket but add an additional fee for processing each one. Speed limits are displayed on circular white signs with a red outline and the numbers in big black type.
You better be passing someone or doing some serious speed if you’re in the left lane on the autostrada. The further left you move, the faster you should go. Signs on top of the highways show minimum speeds in blue circles with white numbers. If you’re going slow or not trying to pass someone, Italian drivers will aggressively pass you in an effort to tell you you’re doing it wrong.
AM I ON THE AUTOSTRADA?
If you’re following green signs or seeing them continuously, you are either on an autostrada or in route to one. If you think it may be an autostrada based on the size and quick flow of traffic but the signs are blue, it’s not the autostrada. Understanding whether the road is in fact an autostrada or not is important because of…
The autostrade (the plural of autostrada) are toll roads. When you get onto one of these highways, you will take a ticket and pay when you exit. You are able to pay with cash or with a credit card but do not try to go through the telepass lane. This is a lane for Italian residents who have the automatic toll charge, similar to Ez-pass in the US. Some car rental companies will offer you the option to have a Telepass for an additional fee but if you would like an estimate on the cost of your tolls, check your route on viamichelin.com.
It’s important to understand all the signs, regulations, and rules of the road in Italy before deciding to drive here. Colors and symbols are essential to properly drive and navigate. Many cities have limitations on the city centers. If you see a black and white bullseye sign, this will lead you from the autostrada to the center, but be mindful about where you end up driving and how far into the center you go.
There are also signs to tell you where you or certain vehicles cannot go. For instance, the circular signs with a red outline usually mean you cannot do something. Depending on the image in the center, you know who can’t enter that road. If you see two vehicles, it means don’t pass, a bicycle is communicating that no bicycles are allowed, while no image at all means that cars are not allowed to pass. A full red circle with a white horizontal line means wrong way. When the signs switch to black and white but with similar imagery, it is telling you that this restricted zone is now okay to drive in, pass in, etc. One of these circles outlined in red with a blue center communicates no stopping/no parking. Be careful because the last thing you want to deal with is a towed rental car!
Triangle and diamond shaped signs also tell you a bit more about the rules of the road. Roundabouts are quite common in Italy so if you see a red-outlined triangle with a circle of arrows, be prepared to take a roundabout. A yellow diamond with a white-outline is a right of way symbol. If you see this sign, cars should yield to you. With a black line through this sign, you need to be the one to yield.
Driving in Italy may not be as frightening as you think. Just do you research and try to understand the rules and etiquette of the road. But, of course, if you’d rather take the train, it’s always a good option as well. Drive safe!