Italy isn’t just home to the best pizza and pasta in the world. It’s also a place with its own unique set of driving rules. Some people often ask, “What side of the road do drivers drive on in Italy?” or “Which side of the road should I be on?” It may sound simple, but just like in most parts of the world, you will need to know how to get around like a local, especially when you’re driving on the road with locals who’ve grown up going through narrow cobblestone streets or racing along the autostrada. So here’s everything you need to know and prepare before driving to and in Italy. Let’s start with…
Is it easy to drive in Italy?
It’s not just about knowing what side of the road to drive in Italy. You’ll hear stories about the challenges of Italian driving – the fast-paced traffic, narrow city streets, and the impatience of local drivers.
First things first, the roads.
Italian roads are diverse, from wide toll highways (Autostrada) to narrow, winding regional and local roads, particularly in scenic areas like the Dolomites and the Amalfi Coast.
Mountainous regions can seem daunting, but the view is always worth it.
They have restrictions and congestion, but that’s another opportunity to get creative with your itinerary.
Driving in Italy as a tourist
Understandably, safety is crucial.
Italy has strict rules, like compulsory seat belts and stringent speed limits, monitored by control systems like Tutor and Autovelox.
Failure to follow these rules can lead to fines, so keeping that in mind while enjoying your Italian road trip is essential.
What side of the road do drivers drive on in Italy?
Historically, left-hand traffic was more prevalent globally.
Napoleon Bonaparte started changing to drive on the right-hand side, and yes, you guessed it, his influence spread to Italy, being a part of his empire at the time.
Now, why did Napoleon prefer the right side?
That’s an exciting story.
Most people are right-handed, and soldiers would hold their swords in their right hands during combat.
Keeping your enemy on your right-hand side of the road was more advantageous so that your right arm, which held your weapon, was closer to your opponent. Therefore, Napoleon mandated that everyone drive or ride on the right side of the road to make things easier for his armies, and his conquered territories, including Italy, followed suit.
How did Italy end up driving on the right side of the road?
Back in the day, the carriage layout usually had the driver sitting on the left so they could use their right hand, which was typically their dominant hand, to control the horses.
That meant it made sense for them to drive on the right side of the road to better gauge the clearance of vehicles passing in the opposite direction.
As motorized vehicles came along, this right-hand traffic pattern was largely retained.
Until the 1920s, some parts of Italy, particularly the northern regions, still clung to the left-hand driving tradition.
It was only when Tito Minniti, Italy’s Minister of Public Works, standardized the driving law in 1924 to mandate right-hand driving throughout the country.
The decision wasn’t just out of the blue.
They noticed that cars, becoming increasingly popular, were built to be driven on the right side, so they switched to ensure consistency and safety.
Now, while it’s true that other countries like the UK are stuck with left-hand driving.
In the case of Italy, driving on the right made the most sense, given the layout of their roads and vehicles and their traffic patterns.
Required documents and items for driving in Italy
Now that you know which side of the road to drive in Italy, let’s move on to the other requirements for driving.
When heading out on an Italian road trip, you’ll need a few critical documents to ensure a hassle-free journey.
Here’s what you need to keep handy:
- Valid ID: A national identity card or passport. This document verifies your identity, nationality, and age.
- Car Insurance Documents: Having valid car insurance is mandatory. The EU Green Card is an international insurance document that proves your vehicle is insured in all the countries where the card is valid.
- Vehicle Registration Document: This document provides proof of your vehicle’s registration. It’s essential to carry it at all times while driving, as the police might request it during a traffic stop.
- Valid Driving Licence: Holders of a full driving license can apply for an international driving permit. This license proves your right to drive in Italy and other countries.
- International Driving Permit (IDP): Non-EU and non-EEA citizens must have a valid IDP to legally rent and drive a car in Italy. This permit is a translation of your national driving license and demonstrates the validity of your driver’s license.
- Rental Documents: Keep all the rental documents handy if you rent a vehicle. They may be required by the rental company or by the authorities.
Car rental in Italy
When renting a car in Italy, ensure your driving license is handy.
You’ll need an International Driving Permit if your driving license is from outside the EU.
Italian car rental companies offer vehicles suitable for different passenger numbers, including small cars for up to 2 people, mid-sized cars for small families, and larger vehicles for up to 5 adults.
Each type has specific features such as doors, radio, and luggage room capacity.
It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the car rental company’s terms and conditions and ensure the vehicle meets safety standards. For example, many car rental companies require that the car get returned clean. That means taking it for a wash before handing in the keys.
Also, checking for any existing damage before accepting the car is always a good idea. I’d say, better to record a video of the car with your smartphone before you drive away because, you just never know.
As well as…
Understanding the rules in Italy road signs
Being familiar with Italy’s road rules is vital.
Understanding the rules around roundabouts, how to park outside, the use of headlights, and speed limits is also important.
Here are some basic rules and signs to know:
- Speed limits: These vary depending on the type of road. It’s typically 50km/h in urban areas, 90km/h on secondary roads, and 130km/h on highways. Speed limit signs are circular with a red border and the limit in the center.
- Stop and Yield Signs: These are universal. Stop signs are red octagons, while yield signs are inverted white triangles with a red border.
- No Parking Signs: These are blue with a red diagonal stripe.
- ZTL (Limited Traffic Zones): These areas are restricted to non-residential traffic during certain hours. ZTL signs are white with a red circle showing the times of restriction.
The green card question
Is a Green Card necessary to drive in Italy?
It’s not a requirement, but it is highly recommended.
The EU Green Card serves as proof of international vehicle insurance, allowing you to drive across borders within the EU with peace of mind.
If you plan to rent or drive a vehicle in Italy, having a Green Card can make your journey smoother and more stress-free.
Because it’s essential to know the…
Driving rules in Italy for foreigners
First off, you should have a clear…
Understanding the ZTL: Zone a Traffico Limitato
The ZTLs are restricted traffic zones in hundreds of Italian cities and towns.
Designed to protect historic city centers from congestion and pollution, these zones are off-limits to unauthorized vehicles.
ZTLs are typically in effect during peak hours, although this varies from place to place.
Some are in effect 24/7, while others operate only during working hours or evenings.
ZTLs are marked by signs showing a red circle with a white background, often accompanied by the operating hours.
As a foreign driver, you’re probably asking, “Can I drive in a ZTL?”
The short answer is probably not.
Avoiding these zones is best if you have a permit or are driving a rental car with the necessary permissions.
Even if your navigation system guides you through a ZTL, fines can range from €60 to €300.
Plus, many cities have cameras set up to automatically ticket unauthorized vehicles, and believe me, they’re good at catching offenders.
They have also…
Road rules and speed limits
These can change depending on where you’re driving.
So here’s a quick table for reference in km/h as Italy uses the metric system:
|Road Type||Speed Limit (km/h)|
|Minor out-of-town roads||90|
|Major out-of-town roads||110 (95 in rain/snow)|
|Motorways (autostrade)||130 (110 in rain/snow)|
If you’re caught speeding, fines can range from €41 for minor offenses all the way up to €3,287 for serious ones.
And if your speed exceeds the limit by more than 25 mph, you can lose your driving license for 1 to 3 months.
If you’re a non-resident, your driving privileges can be suspended immediately.
Towing is also common in Italy, particularly in urban areas with limited parking.
The cost to retrieve a towed car can be pretty high, often around €200, plus the cost of any outstanding fines.
You should also be…
Navigating Italian road signs and lanes
Italian road signs follow international conventions, so most of them should be familiar to you.
However, there are a few specific ones you should know.
The “No Entry” sign, a red circle with a white bar, is expected at ZTLs. “Divieto di Sosta,” which shows a blue square with a red border and a red diagonal stripe, indicates no parking.
Road lanes can be tricky.
Unlike in the U.S., overtaking in Italy is usually done on the left.
However, on three-lane roads, overtaking can be done on either side.
Remember, the main idea is to stay alert and to keep your wits about you.
The better you understand the rules of the road, the safer and smoother your trip will be.
And to help you more, here’s our…
Tips for driving in Italy for the first time
To make the most of your Italian road trip, preparation is critical.
The essentials for driving in Italy
Start your journey right by ensuring you’re adequately equipped.
This means having an International Driving Permit (IDP) if you’re a non-EU license holder.
An IDP is highly recommended even if you’re an American and technically can drive with your U.S. license.
After all, being prepared never hurts.
Suppose you’ve rented a car (from rental car companies like Avis, Budget, or Sixt, for example)with it’s own license plate.
In that case, it’s important to check it has liability insurance and that you’re familiar with the essential road rules.
This includes seat belt usage, child car seat regulations, and alcohol limits.
It’s also crucial to remember that Italy drives on the right like most of Europe.
Understanding road etiquette
Italian road etiquette may seem chaotic initially, but it’s pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it.
Yes, Italians are known for their fast-paced driving style, and they have a different understanding of personal space than most people are used to.
But don’t let this intimidate you – maintain a comfortable pace, and remember that going with the flow is usually your best bet.
The speed limit on autostradas (Italian highways) is 130km/h, and you should stick to it to avoid the attention of the “Safety Tutor,” Italy’s version of speed traps.
Speed limits are for everyone’s safety, and traffic cameras are standard and automated.
GPS and road signs
It might seem like a no-brainer, but understanding Italian road signs and having a functioning GPS system is crucial to successful navigation.
However, it’s also important to rely on something other than GPS.
Remember that not all signs are accurately placed, and sometimes the good old-fashioned way of reading a map could save you a world of trouble.
Navigating through toll roads and ZTLs
A significant part of driving in Italy includes navigating toll roads and “Zona Traffico Limitato” (ZTL) areas.
The former is straightforward – you pay to use the road.
However, having unlimited toll options can be convenient for longer and faster journeys on toll roads.
Navigating ZTLs requires more finesse.
These are restricted traffic zones found in most Italian towns and cities, designed to reduce congestion and protect historical centers.
Unauthorized vehicles entering these zones will receive a fine, and believe it or not, the enforcement is quite strict, thanks to ever-watchful traffic cameras.
When dealing with both toll roads and ZTLs, planning your route in advance is always best.
This can help avoid unexpected tolls and unauthorized ZTL entries.
Parking in Italy
Finding parking in Italian cities is similar to most busy urban areas – it can be challenging.
Parking regulations are strict and must be taken into account to avoid fines. In most places, parking spots are color.
Here are some standard color codes you may encounter in Italian cities:
- Blue: Blue parking spots are usually paid parking. There are usually pay stations or pay by phone.
- Yellow: Yellow zones are typically designated for reserved for residents with special permits or disabled individuals. These areas are strictly monitored, and parking without the necessary authorization can result in fines or the risk of your vehicle being towed. Parking in a yellow zone without proper authorization can lead to penalties.
- White: White parking spots are usually available for general public use. However, even in white zones, it is crucial to check if any specific time restrictions apply, as some areas may have limited parking hours during certain times.
- Reserved Spaces: Some parking spots may be reserved for specific individuals or purposes. These may include reserved areas for government officials, car-sharing services, or electric vehicle charging stations. Unauthorized parking in these reserved spaces can result in penalties.
Frequently Asked Questions about planning your Italian road trip
If you’re seeking an authentic Italian road trip experience, there are a few places you cannot miss. Starting in Rome, a captivating route takes you to Sulmona in the region of Abruzzo, renowned for its unspoiled landscapes. Imagine driving the A24 autostrada to Fonte Cerreto, then winding up to Campo Imperatore, a highland plain with breathtaking views. Also, knowing what side of the road drivers drive on in Italy. You’ll then proceed to Sulmona, a charming town offering the delicious local delicacy of confetti. A trip to Italy should also be around the Amalfi Coast will showcase cliff-hugging roads and pastel-hued villages. At the same time, Tuscany promises a quintessential Italian experience with its Chianti wine region and the picturesque Val d’Orcia. The Northern Lakes region, such as Lake Como, is a blend of romance and scenic beauty, and the Dolomites, a spectacular alpine range, make for an unforgettable drive. Starting in Palermo, Sicily, you’ll find a honey-hued city that leads you to Trapani and Agrigento before you venture east through Ragusa, Modica, and Noto to Taormina, with its ancient Greek theater. In Puglia’s Salento region, drive along coastal roads to discover limestone stacks, rocky bays, and white-sand beaches like Punta Prosciutto.
Toll booths are found at the entrances and exits of the autostrada (motorway). When entering, you’ll need to take a ticket and then pay the toll when you exit. The toll amount depends on the distance traveled and the type of vehicle you’re driving. Telepass is an electronic toll payment system in Italy that allows you to pass through the dedicated Telepass lanes without stopping at the toll booths. The device records your travels, and the charges are billed directly to your bank account or credit card. This system makes for a smoother, faster drive, but it is typically more helpful for frequent drivers than tourists.
In Italy, there are two main types of fuel: petrol (benzina) and diesel (gasoline). Diesel tends to be cheaper than petrol and is widely used, especially in rental cars. Most gas stations are self-service, although, in some places, an attendant might be available to assist you. Fuel prices in Italy are relatively high compared to other countries. Still, you can save some money by refueling at supermarket gas stations or independent ones outside the cities. Check whether your rental car requires diesel or petrol, as a mistake can lead to costly repairs.
Italy is known for its scenic routes, but some roads can be treacherous. Cliffside roads, particularly those along the Amalfi Coast, offer stunning views but are often narrow and winding, with sharp bends. During high season, they can become congested with buses and large vehicles. Furthermore, mountain roads, especially in the Dolomites and Alps, can be tricky to navigate. Weather conditions can change rapidly, making the roads slippery and sometimes even resulting in closures. Remember, no view is worth putting your safety at risk. If you’re uncomfortable driving in these conditions, consider alternate routes or modes of transport.
When it comes to driving in Italy, it’s essential to understand and avoid the common road crimes that can get you into hot water. The first and the most prevalent is speeding. Italy has a comprehensive system of speed cameras scattered across the country, and these devices don’t play favorites, folks. If you’re exceeding the speed limit, expect a ticket in the mail. And remember, tickets can follow you home if you’re a foreign driver, so don’t think you’re off the hook just because you’re driving a rental. Driving under the influence is another crime you absolutely want to avoid. Italy has strict laws when it comes to drinking and driving. The permitted blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.05%, lower than in many countries. For new drivers (those who have had their license for less than three years), the BAC limit is 0.00% – which essentially means zero tolerance for alcohol. Of course, driving on the wrong side of the road in Italy will net you a ticket, as well.
If you find yourself in a situation requiring immediate assistance, these are the numbers you should call:
General emergencies: 112
Fire service: 115
Ambulance and medical emergencies: 118
Note that 112 is the European emergency number, accessible from all fixed and mobile phones, free of charge, everywhere in the E.U.
They can provide assistance in English, French, and German.
Italy, especially in its urban centers, is teeming with pedestrians. As a driver, it’s your responsibility to ensure their safety.
Here are a few tips:
Respect pedestrian crossings: Zebra crossings are common, and pedestrians have the right of way once they step onto one. It’s crucial to stop when you see a pedestrian waiting to cross.
Be aware of the surroundings: In crowded city centers, pedestrians might be walking close to the traffic, sometimes even in the streets. Always keep an eye out.
Remember the “no honking” rule: In many Italian cities, honking is prohibited in certain areas unless it’s a real emergency. It can scare pedestrians and cause accidents.
Stick to the speed limit: This can’t be stressed enough, especially in areas with high pedestrian traffic. Speeding can make it difficult to stop quickly if a pedestrian steps into the street.
After all, blending in and adapting to their rules is essential.
It only takes one way
It doesn’t end with simply knowing what side of the road to drive in Italy.
There’s no doubt driving here isn’t for the faint-hearted.
The locals zip around with an impressive (sometimes terrifying) confidence, and city centers can turn into an intricate ballet of cars, scooters, and pedestrians.
Just remember to keep it safe and sound.
With a little bit of preparation, a pinch of patience, and a healthy dose of respect for the rules, you can drive thru ancient, narrow streets or mountainous hairpin bends just like an authentic Italian.