Travel Tips - Driving
Even if you have driven in Italy before you will want to note these recent laws, both for your safety and to avoid huge fines:
- The blood-alcohol limit is now .05. The equivalent of two glasses of wine is enough for an Italian to lose their license. Take care when out wine-tasting to stop and eat, wait between wineries, or nominate a non-drinking driver.
- You MUST drive with lights on except on minor town roads. Remember to turn them on (and off when you park!!)
- You must NOT use cell phones behind the wheel, unless with a headset ("auricolare" in Italian.) Stop the car to respond if your phone rings.
- More and more cities are adding ZTL or limited traffic areas. This is wonderful for tourists...unless they are driving! Some of our friends and clients this year (well, to be honest, even I, Patti) have really gotten some stiff fines for accidentally entering these zones. Watch out for signs (a white circle with red border) and cameras when approaching urban areas. ASK. And if you do get a fine, pay it.
Considering renting a car and driving along the winding, romantic roads of Tuscany? Take a few minutes to glance down the list below.
Should I be doing this?
If you want to visit less-touristy areas alone, or stay in a farmhouse in the countryside, yes. If you plan on visiting city centers and staying in hotels, probably not. Trains are well connected between city centers and in some cities (e.g. Venice) you cannot drive at all.
Where do I rent the car?
We highly recommend AutoEurope as this is a consolidator and all of their prices include the mandatory insurance (you can not use a credit card in Italy to cover the insurance).
What about licensing?
To drive in Italy you must carry with you your home state license as well as an I.D.P which can be obtained easily at A.A.A. for around $15. You do not need to be a member to obtain an I.D.P. Not having an I.D.P. could result in your car being impounded and having to pay a very hefty fine.
Are there other expenses?
In addition to the cost of the car itself:
- Gas costs about $8.00 per gallon.
- The highway (autostrada) costs something like €5.00 per hour of driving. You can avoid this cost by taking superstradas, if you are comfortable driving on two-lane highways.
- Parking costs from about 65c (street parking) to €1.30 (public car parks) per hour. In big city centers and garages it can be quite a bit more. Hotel garages tend to cost around €15.50 a night. There is, of course, free parking if it can be found. Tourists ought not to expect to find it very often!
Will it be easy to navigate?
The road system is pretty logical but different than in the USA. You may never easily see the ROAD NUMBER as marked on the map. Therefore, keep the map handy, note the road number, but more importantly note the CITY NAMES en route to your journey's end. These are what will guide you at intersections; eg, Milan vs. Florence or Florence vs. Rome. Directions North or South won't be given.
Will I get lost?
You might try to buy a good (detailed) map before you leave. If you cannot find one, in Italy try Touring Club Italia maps (AAA equivalent.) A good internet site for mapping is www.google.com - go to "maps". Useful for finding a specific town or farmhouse, but not for maps of the entire nation!
All kilometers are not equal! That road that looks like spaghetti winding through the Chianti countryside is sure to be spectacularly scenic, and equally sure to take a VERY long time to drive! So, plan your time accordingly (and take Dramamine if you are a passenger.)
What areas should I avoid?
In order of Driving Insanity: Naples, Palermo, Rome, Milan, Florence. Remember, stop signs and speed limits are "suggestions" in much of Italy; Naples and south they are completely ignored! Risk of car theft or belongings in a car is also highest in these areas.
What about parking?
FREE parking is indicated by white lines, though you must also carefully read the nearest parking SIGN for applicable restrictions; eg, before or after a certain hour, one hour only, not on Tuesdays for street cleaning, etc. In many cases you must use the "disco orario", the little clock on your windscreen, to set your time of arrival. If there's a one-hour limit, say, and you set the clock at 10 am, you'll be finable after 11 am.
Many PAID-parking areas have self-service meters where you insert coins and receive a little time-stamped ticket to put on your dashboard. Garages generally supply you with such a ticket to take with you and then to pay the cashier before withdrawing your car.
I can't read Italian. What about the road signs?
Road signs in Europe generally have only pictures and not words. Our friend Cristina wrote a full article with pictures and all about road signs in Italy. You can print the pages and bring them with you on your trip.
Please do STUDY them. Driving is such a fact of life in the U.S. that it is easy to take for granted, but your safety and that of others on the road is a serious matter. To not understand a road sign (no entry, no passing for example) or to not know the rules (no right on red) can turn a delightful holiday into a terribly dangerous one.