Driving on the Italian autostrada and major highways can be a daunting experience. Also, since Italian drivers have a bad reputation and since the country is equipped with a great train system, most tourists don’t even consider renting a car. However, have no fear! The following is all you need to know to understand driving in Italy. So, if you’re thinking about 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. Filling up the tank is a pretty easy task so don’t be too worried about this part; Italian self-service gas stations are similar to those in other countries.
Be mindful that Italy uses the metric system, so your gas prices are measured in liters. Also, on the autostrada, gas prices are usually at least 15–20% more expensive than in towns and cities.
This article wouldn’t do Italy justice if it didn’t mention food! In fact even the rest stops have delicious treats. Sandwiches, coffee, and all of the basics, as well as small trinkets, are available at the Autogrill. A restroom and gas station are also available here. You will end up looking forward to these stops along your journey.
It’s a pretty common stereotype that Italians drive really fast. While there may be some truth to this, dangerous drivers can be found anywhere. And speed is actually monitored fairly well on the autostrada.
Speed cameras line the highways and speeding 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 are in a big black font.
The further left you move on the autostrada, the faster you should drive. Signs on top of the highways show minimum speeds in blue circles with white numbers. If you’re slowing down or are not trying to surpass someone, Italian drivers will aggressively surpass 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, then 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 can 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 driving limitations in the city centers. If you see a black and white bullseye sign, this will lead you from the autostrada to the city center, but be mindful of how far into the center you go.
There are also signs to tell you where 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 may not be able to 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 not 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 your 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 safely!