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Driving in Southern Italy

car_italyDriving in Italy can be challenging. Although most other drivers are competent, many may drive faster than is allowed in Australia, and because they know the roads better and where they are going (usually), they may be more confident. This may translate as appearing impatient and prone to toot drivers who they feel are not doing the right thing.

Despite this, driving is the best way to see the country, to have time to enjoy the smaller places, and to get off the beaten track. The autostradas with their amazingly high viadotti spanning valleys and gallerie which cut through mountains in a few moments, display some of the best engineering in the world and can save much time on long trips. 

Here are some pointers to help make the experience of driving on Italian roads more pleasurable.

An international driving license is not required to drive in Italy, but it is advisable, and is available from your motoring association. Consider joining the Touring Club of Italy ( There are many benefits such as guidebooks, maps, advice and discounts.

Drive on the right and remember to proceed around roundabouts in and anti-clockwise direction. Take especial care when pulling out of driveways that you keep to the right. Probably the most difficult manoeuvre and potentially most dangerous is the humble U-turn. It is all too easy to look in the wrong direction and turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

If you have booked your accommodation ahead, get as much information on how to find it BEFORE leaving Australia. Copy web pages, ask for written directions or a map. It may be time-consuming but it will always be easier than doing it in pigeon-Italian in the dark, or trying to understand obscure street signs.

Get the best maps or atlas you can find. We used a Michelin Motoring Atlas 1:300,000 (1cm=3km). 

Most autostradas beyond Naples are toll-free, or charge only nominal fees. Drivers need simply to take a ticket (biglietto) and proceed, paying when they exit the tollway. Watch for the icon on display at the toll booth. If it shows a hand, there will be an attendant who can give change, if there is only a coin symbol shown, then you will need the exact change or a Telepass.

Overtaking seems to happen anywhere and everywhere and the general rule is to give way to overtaking vehicles. When a car is joining a motorway, move to the left to allow it a free lane.

As on all European motorways, the Italians follow a strict hierarchy of who should be in which lane. The fastest car in the fast lane expects total priority, regardless of whether they are observing the speed limit or not. Never use that lane unless you are overtaking at high speed. The middle lane is for overtaking slower vehicles in the right hand lane. Many Australians are poor lane drivers and incur the wrath of European drivers when they hit the motorways. Drive in the slow lane (extreme right) for a few kilometres and observe how the locals do it, then venture into the middle of the road if you need to. The slow traffic usually moves between 110-130 km per hour. Unless you drive at 150km or more, you will probably never need to use the fast lane.

Signage is often difficult to comprehend in cities. In fact we never did work it out entirely. Here is our theory:

Italian road signs generally use either a left or right horizontal arrow to indicate routes. (^ a).The signs usually appear on the far side of the intersection. If the sign is on the left side of the intersection and the arrow is pointing to the right then proceed straight ahead. If the sign is on the right hand side of the intersection and the arrow is pointing to the right, then turn right and vice versa (maybe!).


Parking costs are low (50-60 euro-cents an hour) but you may need to buy the ticket in a bar or from a tobacconist, and you may have scratch off the appropriate square to show when you have parked and display that on the dashboard.

Always keep to the speed limit (officially 130 kph for autostradas, 110 kph on dual carriageways, 90 kph on the open road, and 50 kph in town areas, or as advised by the signs) even if those around you do not. In many cities there are zones which allow only limited traffic to facilitate pedestrian use. Senso Unico means 'one way'. STOP is universal.

As in Australia, seatbelts must always be worn and there are fines for using mobile phones while driving. The blood alcohol limit when driving is .05.

City and town streets are patrolled by the Polizia Municipale (municipal police). Country areas are patrolled by the Carabinieri (the Italian State Police.

All service stations sell unleaded gasoline (benzina verde) and diesel fuel (gasolio). Siesta hours may affect opening times in smaller towns, but motorway service areas (servizio) remain open 24 hours a day. These also usually have clean toilets, and Autogrill (cafes and fast food), and often supermarket-style shopping.

Lock your car at all times, and watch the car when you leave it at motorway service areas.


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