Car Travel

Driving in Rome is generally not recommended. The main access routes from the north are the A1-E35 (Autostrada del Sole) from Milan and Florence and the A12–E80 highway from Genoa. The principal route to or from points south, including Naples, is the A1-E45. All highways connect with the Grande Raccordo Anulare Ring Road (GRA), which channels traffic into the city center. Markings on the GRA are confusing: take time to study the route you need. Be extremely careful of pedestrians and mopeds when driving: Romans are casual jaywalkers and pop out frequently from between parked cars. People on scooters tend to be the most careless drivers, as they weave in and out of traffic. For driving directions, check out www.tuttocitta.it.

Parking

Be warned: parking in Rome can be a nightmare. The situation is greatly compounded by the fact that private cars without permits are not allowed access to the centro storico on weekdays 6:30 am–6 pm, Saturday 2 pm–6 pm, or Friday and Saturday nights (11 pm–3 am). Other areas, including Trastevere, Testaccio, and San Lorenzo, are closed to cars at various times. Check the Roma Mobilità website for the most up-to-date information. These areas, known as Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL), are marked by electric signs, and bordering streets have video cameras for photographing license plates. Fines are sent directly to car-rental companies and added to your bill. There is limited free parking in Rome; most parking is metered, on a pay-by-the-hour basis. Spaces with white lines are free parking; spaces with blue lines are paid parking; and spaces with yellow lines are for the handicapped only. All other color-coded spaces are usually reserved for residents or carpooling and require special permits. If you park in one of these spaces without a permit, your car could be ticketed or towed. Make sure to check with your hotel regarding appropriate places to park nearby. Meter parking costs €1–€1.50 per hour (depending on what area you're in) with a limit on total parking time allowed in many areas. Parking facilities near historic sights exist at the Villa Borghese and the Vatican.

Rules of the Road

Driving is on the right. Regulations are largely similar to those in Britain and the United States, except that the police have the power to levy on-the-spot fines. Although honking abounds, the use of horns is forbidden in many areas; a large sign, "zona di silenzio," indicates where. Speed limits are 50 kph (31 mph) in Rome, 110 kph (70 mph) on state and provincial roads, and 130 kph (80 mph) on autostrade, unless otherwise marked. Talking on a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited, and if caught, the driver will be issued a fine. Not wearing a seat belt is also against the law. The blood-alcohol content limit for driving is 0.5 gr/l with fines up to €6,000 and the possibility of 12 months imprisonment for surpassing the limit. Fines for speeding are uniformly stiff: 10 kph (6 mph) over the speed limit can warrant a fine in the hundreds and even thousands of euros; over 10 kph, and your license could be taken away.

Whenever the city decides to implement an "Ecological Day" in order to reduce smog levels, commuters are prohibited from driving their cars during certain hours of the day and in certain areas of the city. These are usually organized and announced ahead of time; however, if you're planning to rent a car during your trip, make sure to ask the rental company and your hotel if there are any planned, because the traffic police won't cut you any breaks, even if you say you're a tourist.

Car Rentals

When you reserve a car, ask about cancellation penalties, taxes, drop-off charges (if you're planning to pick up the car in one city and leave it in another), and surcharges (for being under or over a certain age, for additional drivers, or for driving across regional or country borders or beyond a specific distance from your point of rental). All these things can add substantially to your costs. Request car seats and extras such as GPS when you book. Make sure to ask the rental car company if they require you to obtain an International Driver's Permit beforehand (most do). These can generally be obtained for a fee through AAA in the United States. Rates are sometimes—but not always—better if you book in advance or reserve through a rental agency's website. There are other reasons to book ahead, though: for popular destinations, during busy times of the year, or to ensure that you get certain types of cars (automatic transmission, vans, SUVs, exotic sports cars).

Rates in Rome begin at around €40 per day for an economy car with air-conditioning, a manual transmission, and unlimited mileage. This includes the 20% value-added tax (V.A.T.) on car rentals. All international car-rental agencies in Rome have a number of locations. It's usually cheaper to rent a car in advance through your local agency than to rent on location in Italy. Or book ahead online—you can save as much as €10 per day on your car rental. Within Italy, local and international rental agencies offer similar rates. Whether you're going with a local or international agency, note that most cars are manual; automatics are rarer, so inquire about those well in advance.

In Italy, your own driver's license is acceptable if accompanied by an official translation in Italian. But to be extra safe, an International Driving Permit is a good idea; it's available from the American or Canadian Automobile Association and, in the United Kingdom, from the Automobile Association or Royal Automobile Club. These international permits are universally recognized, and having one in your wallet may save you a problem with the local authorities.

In Italy you must be 21 years of age to rent an economy or subcompact car, and most companies require customers under the age of 23 to pay by credit card. Upon rental, all companies require credit cards as a warranty; to rent bigger cars (2,000 cc or more), you must often show two credit cards. Debit or check cards are not accepted. Call local agents for details. There are no special restrictions on senior-citizen drivers.

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