Italy at a Glance
Driving in Italy
Many expats and foreigners have a somewhat negative attitude towards driving in Italy, as Italians are stereotyped as rather aggressive drivers. This is not necessarily true. If you are a safe driver, you will find that driving in Italy is not as daunting as it’s made out to be.
True, some Italians tend to break more road regulations than they follow, and yes, you should always be aware of motorcycles, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians. However, if you avoid peak rush hour traffic and the center of larger cities, you will find that driving in Italy can be quite pleasant. There are, of course, alternatives to driving. Public transportation is less stressful and can take you to your inner-city destination for little cost.
A car will be especially useful for driving in Italy’s beautiful countryside. Be sure to avoid driving directly through small towns, as this can be rather confusing and the roads may be extremely narrow. When visiting small villages and towns, you’d better leave your vehicle on the outskirts of the village and tour it on foot. Maneuvering through the narrow alleys will be difficult, and parking is next to impossible!
If you are planning a sightseeing trip on a weekend, make sure to bring plenty of patience. Many Italians tend to stream out of cities on Friday afternoons and back in on Sunday evenings.
Road Infrastructure in Italy
Italy was the first country in the world to build motorways and therefore has a well-established system of expressways (autostrade). There are approximately 488,000 kilometers of roadways in Italy. 6,400 kilometers of them are autostrade. As some parts of Italy are very mountainous, you will find yourself driving through tunnels and across bridges more often than not when driving in Italy’s north.
Driving in Italy comes at a price, though: Most autostrade are toll roads. Italy has implemented an electronic card system, where toll expenses are automatically charged to drivers’ accounts. This is quite useful for drivers that often take toll roads, as it minimizes traffic jams at toll booths.
Low Emission Zones
Italy has jumped on the EU bandwagon and has begun implementing so-called Low Emission Zones (LEZ) in some regions. There are two options for enforcing the LEZ guidelines. In some cities, your vehicle may be required to have a stamp that explicitly states it meets the standards for low emissions zones. Alternatively, your license plates may be photographed while you are in an LEZ equipped with cameras.
The European Union’s site on LEZs advises which cities in Italy have these zones and how you are to comply with them. Fines for driving in an Italian LEZ without a proper vehicle, or at the wrong time, can result in as much as €450. The severity of the fine depends on how critical the implementation of the LEZ is and thus on the intensity of the environmental hazard.
Road Safety in Italy
Driving in Italy is still somewhat risky: Italy still has one of the highest accident rates in the European Union.
However, the national accident rate decreased sharply, e.g. by 63% from 1999 to 2008. This is thanks to the improvement in the quality of infrastructure and the advanced road work and materials used. The Autostrade per l’Italia takes care to improve safety conditions for road users driving in Italy.