Motoring through Italy: The Do’s and Don’ts

If driving through Italy, there are some rules of the road you need to know first…

  • Do save your ticket.
    Save the ticket you are issued at an autostrada entrance, as you need it to exit; on some shorter autostrade, you pay the toll when you enter. Viacards, on sale for 25 at many autostrada locations, allow you to pay for tolls in advance. At special lanes you simply slip the card into a designated slot.

  • Do map out a rough route before you head out.
    Besides mapping out your route, plug in your points of departure and arrival on www.mappy.com. The website gives traveling time estimates.

  • Do know the lingo. An uscita is an “exit.” A raccordo is a ring road surrounding a city. Strade regionale and strade provinciale (regional and provincial highways, denoted by S, SS, SR, or SP numbers) may be single-lane roads, as are all secondary roads; directions and turnoffs aren’t always clearly marked.
  • Don’t panic if you break down. Automobile Club Italiano (tel. 803/116) offers 24-hour road service. English-speaking operators are available. Your rental-car company may also have an emergency tow service with a toll-free call. Be prepared to tell the operator which road you’re on, the verso (direction) you’re headed, and your targa (license plate number). On the autostrade and superstrade, emergency phones are available. To find the nearest one, look on the pavement for painted arrows and the term “SOS.”
  • Don’t put regular gas in a diesel car. Gas stations are located along the main highways. Those on autostrade are open 24 hours. Otherwise, gas stations generally are open Monday through Saturday 7-7, with a break at lunchtime. Self-service gas stations have pumps that accept only bills in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50 euros and do not give change. Those with attendants accept cash and credit cards. It’s not customary to tip the attendant.

    Gasoline (benzina) costs about 1.20 per liter and is available in unleaded (verde) and super unleaded (super). Many rental cars in Italy use diesel (gasolio), which costs about 1 per liter.

  • Don’t tear up a parking ticket. Parking is at a premium in most towns, especially in the centri storici (historic centers). Fines for parking violations are high, and towing is common. Don’t think about tearing up a ticket, as car rental companies may use your credit card to be reimbursed for any fines you incur.
  • Do park smartly. In congested cities like Rome and Florence, indoor parking costs 23-30 for 12-24 hours; outdoor parking costs about 10-20. Parking in an area signposted zona disco (disk zone) is allowed for short periods (from 30 minutes to two hours or more — the time is posted); if you don’t have a cardboard disk (get one at the tourist office or car rental company) to show what time you parked, you can use a piece of paper. The parcometro, a machine that prints a ticket that you leave on your dashboard, has been introduced in most metropolitan areas. It’s a good idea to park in a designated (and preferably attended) lot.
  • Do turn your lights on.

    Headlights are not compulsory in cities when it rains or snows, but it’s a good idea to turn them on. However, you must turn on your headlights outside city limits at all hours.

  • Do a little homework. Right turns on red are forbidden in Italy. Driving is on the right. Regulations are largely the same as in Britain and the United States, except that the police have the power to levy on-the-spot fines. Using handheld mobile phones while driving is illegal; fines can exceed 100. In most Italian towns the use of the horn is forbidden in many areas; a large sign, zona di silenzio, indicates a no-honking zone. Speed limits are 130 kph (80 mph) on autostrade and 110 kph (70 mph) on state and provincial roads, unless otherwise marked.
  • Don’t forget to strap yourself in.

    All riders must wear seat belts and young children should be in car seats at all times.

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