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Driving In Italy

Road Signs

Note that Italy uses (mostly) international road signs; you can find a glossary of them at the bottom of the MVRO page.

Finding Your Way

Italian signs generally don't indicate cardinal direction (N/S/E/W) or road (SS 7, etc.), but rather which major towns they lead to.  Thus, it is useful to know roughly what towns are in what direction.  For example, Roma (Rome) is north of Naples, so if you want to go north, follow the signs for RomaRoadgap explains Italian signage in more detail.

Driving Directions in Naples

Manual Transmission

If you are buying a car in Italy, this may be your first time driving a manual transmission car.  Here are some websites that will help you learn:

Italian Drivers: How to Understand and Manage

The First Rule of Italian Driving (According to Gumball)

Italians are known as "crazy" drivers, and Naples is infamous for having the "worst" drivers in Italy!  However, this is because they simply follow different rules than Americans.  Or, more precisely, they only follow one rule:

The First (And Only) Rule of Italian Driving: Do not hit anything that is in front of you.

Corollaries to the First Rule of Italian Driving:

  • There are no other "rules."  This means that quaint American rules like "always stop at stoplights/signals", "stay in your lane", "don't drive on the shoulder/sidewalk", "stop for pedestrians", "don't drive in reverse on the highway", etc. don't apply—as long as you don't hit anything/anyone!
  • Sometimes this rule is mis-stated as "the car in front has the right of way."  While usually the car behind will get out of the way of the car in front, Italians don't think of things in terms of "right of way"—it's just a matter of getting to where you're going without hitting anyone.  For example, if someone is about to cut you off, your job is to let them in...or honk your horn so they know you're not letting them in.  See?  No "right of way"—just a practical means to avoid collision.
    • Note that you do not own the space in front of (or around) your car in Italy.  When cars use this space, Americans perceive this as getting "cut off", but Italians see this as "no accident, no problem"
  • When merging, getting into a traffic circle, changing lanes, or even crossing the street as a pedestrian, you just have to ensure that the cars behind you have sufficient time/space to avoid you.
  • Making eye contact means that you see each other and one of you will therefore get out of the way of the other.  Since it is often confusing which one will do so, it is often best to avoid eye contact.

The movie Gumball has another take on the First Rule (see clip on the right).

For other points of view, see Joe Casale's thoughts on driving in Italy, Luke Swartz's blog post listing different driving signals, Italy Beyond the Obvious' 10 Habits of Italian Driving, and Bruno Bozetto's hillarious animated short, Europe and Italy.

Parking


Darin Riggs Parking Rule

"I love the way Italians park.  You turn any street corner in Rome and it looks as if you've just missed a parking competition for blind people...Romans park their cars the way I would if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap." - Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There

The Darin Riggs Parking Rule

"If there is an Italian in front of you and an Italian in back of you, you're OK."  In other words, even if there is a big "no parking" sign, if there are Italians parked along that road, you probably won't get ticketed or towed.  However, if there is no one parked on a road, and there isn't a good reason (e.g. it's August so nobody is in town), then even if there isn't a "no parking" sign, beware parking there!

The "Prego Man"

Sometimes, when one parks in Naples (or elsewhere in Italy), someone will offer to "look after" your car, by approaching you with an oustretched hand and asking "Prego?".  Thus, at least one American calls such an unlicensed attendant "The Prego Man".  Some people choose to ignore the Prego Man, and some choose to pay him (it's almost always a "him")...just be forewarned that sometimes if you don't pay, your car may not be in great shape when you arrive back.

Accidents and Breakdowns

Should you have a problem on the freeway, try to pull over in one of the shoulder spots marked "SOS."  Few Italian freeways have large shoulders.  Also, keep a reflective triangle and vest in your car so that oncoming drivers will see you.  If you need to explain what is broken, check out Car Words in Italian.

The Automobile Club of Italy (ACI) is the equivalent of AAA in the States—among other services, they provide a towing service throughout the country.  They have various annual memberships that give you various services.

For autoparts Autozone will ship anything free to an FPO address. 

Mechanics

  • Support Site - Autoport offers relatively good prices (especially for regular maintenance like oil changes) and you can pay in dollars, although they don't allow you to make a reservation.  If you can miss your car for a day or two, you can do an "early bird drop off" by leaving your keys and filling out what you want done.
  • Tony's at JFC - Tony Tratta's Garage is convenient, especially if you work at JFC 081-721-2963 or 348-563-73360.
  • Bulian's Auto Body Shop at JFC - Renzo Bulian, renzo.bulian@virgilio.it, 081-721-2696 or 081-762-2906 or 328-957-4328
  • Angelo in Arco Felice - an excellent mechanic, good, quick service; call 347-865-9768 (located near main Arco Felice roundabout, 40°49.96'N 014°05.86'E)
  • Do It Yourself at the autohobby shop on Support Site, which has a mechanic on duty to answer questions and help.
  • Mirto Auto Parts in Succivo, the next exit east from Support Site on SS7 has a good selection (better than the Autoport) at 40°58.102'N 014°15.489'E
  • Patrick in Gricignano - rec'd by some Americans
  • Aldo in Licola - rec'd by some Americans, 338-449-6590, open most days 8:30-7:30

Telepass

Most major Italian highways—including the frequently-used Tangenziale (or "Tange") that cuts across Naples—are toll roads.  For example, the Tang costs €0.80 each way (regardless of how far you drive on it).  There are three ways to pay, in increasing order of convenience:  First, cash.  Second, a "Via" card, which is a card that is swiped at a "Via" tollbooth (these tollbooths also accept credit cards - sometimes [if they work]).  Third, a Telepass, which is an electronic toll collection system that allows you to drive through special tollbooths at ~35 kph (or faster)—see the Telepass Wikipedia page for more information.  There are two major ways to get a Telepass:
  • NEX - The easiest way to get a Telepass is to sign up at the Navy Exchange Quality of Life/Residential Services office.  You pay €7.50 (about $10) a month, plus any tolls.
  • Italian Bank Account - The actual cost for a standard ("Family") Telepass is only €3.10 per quarter—about $1.40 per month (plus tolls)!  The trouble is that to pay this rate, you need an Italian bank account.  The easiest way to do this is to sign up for a Intesa Sanpaolo (Banco di Napoli) account at the conveniently located Capodichino branch.  Even when you factor in their €14.50 quarterly account fee, you're still paying only about $8 total a month (and if you sign up for their online banking "Zerotondo" account, you don't even pay the quarterly fee—but you can only visit the teller window once a month)...plus you can use your account to pay rent, bills, etc.  When you sign up for your account, mention that you want to sign up for a Telepass, since they have to link it to your ATM card (this process can take up to a month).  Once linked, visit a Punto Blu (the most convenient is on A1 going North, just before the Agerola/A16 exit) to fill out a form (in Italian—bring a dictionary or someone to help you translate unless you speak some yourself) and get your Telepass.
  • ...or you can get a Rechargable Telepass.  "Ricaricabile" in Italian, this pass costs €50 and only works on the Naples Tangenziale and the A3 to Sorento/Salerno.  However, it requires no monthly fee or bank account.  You can buy it at any Punto Blu (see links above).  The Telepass Website (in Italian) explains more.
Also: do not leave your Telepass in your car when you park it!  Even though it is a stupid thing to steal (since it is easily tracked), some people have had their car windows smashed to grab the Telepass.

Other Resources

  • MVRO has lots of useful information; for information about drivers' licenses, read the Benvenuti page
  • Italy Beyond the Obvious has a great series of blog posts on driving in Italy.
  • The State Department's website is focused on helping American tourists, but also has useful information
  • VeloceToday has a great excerpt from a book by Joe Pelanconi concerning Italian driving habits.
  • Slow Travel Italy has a great page that includes links to information about all aspects of driving in Italy, including tips on where to park in some cities.
  • Joseph Lomax's In Italy has a nice (albiet somewhat dated) decription of Italian driving habits and how to cope
  • "Bugbyte" on a MP3Car discussion forum has an entertaining description of Italian driving that begins with a quote from the movie Gumball Rally: "The first rule of Italian driving: What's behind you is not important!"
  • Tour Italy has a brief description of Neopolitan drivers as "fatalistic"
  • Guido Veloce's blog has an interesting discussion about Italian versus American driving habits, using the American tendency to get frustrated at the Italians' disregard for rules to dig at US foreign policy.  He mischaracterizes Americans as wanting to go slow, however—some Americans drive slowly, but it largely depends on the region (e.g. even the Pacific Northwest versus California is a big difference) and he of course ignores the Italians who drive very slow in the right lane.
  • See the Benvenuti Page section on Buying Cars.
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