4 Things Travelers Should Know Before Driving in Italy

Italians have a reputation for fast and dangerous driving; along with the narrow and cobbled streets in the historic towns, you'll need to have your A game on. Find out how to do it safely here.

Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Fiat - Italians love their cars and driving whether on a flat, fast motorway or a challenging, winding Tuscan back road.

But in the cities and hisoric towns the love of speed can be deadly. Italy has one of the highest road death tolls in Europe - 6.1 per 100,000 - and Rome is rated as the worst European city for traffic accidents. In 2014 the Italian government declared the national road toll "an emergency".

Dangerous Roads in Italy

The SS 106 spanning the Ionian coast from Reggio Calabria to Taranto is among Europe's most dangerous roads. And this little beauty pictured below, the Stelvio Pass in the Alps, is the 10th most dangerous road in the entire world. For obvious reasons it's best to back off the throttle and take it easy.

Driving in Italy

Contributing to the road toll is the fact many Italian drivers speed and may cut you off or act aggressively. Trucks, even the 18-wheeler kind, exhibit the same behaviour. Be prepared, allow extra room for emergency manoeuvres and resist the tempatation to follow suit.

Other contributing factors:

  • Some country roads are narrow and often without guardrails.
  • Speeds vary in rural areas, and fog can cloud visibility in northern Italy.
  • Do whatever you can to avoid stopping in emergency lanes, as even they are dangerous and not very wide.
  • Slow down at toll booths to avoid accidents and pileups.

Like any major city around the world, traffic in Rome and Naples can be terrible; with many drivers disobeying the road rules. Avoid the temptation to follow suit, as some Italian highways have automated ticketing systems which will fine even rented cars for things like speeding.

Another thing to watch for when driving in the city are zona a traffico limitato or ZTL. These are reduced traffic zones designed to ease congestion and pollution in city areas. If you are photographed driving into a ZTL, you will receive a fine.

As with most major cities, the congestion is bad during rush hour in places like Florence, and with the maze of one-way streets and restrictions it's not much better the rest of the day. Parking can be a challenge too. Drivers will fill any spare space, so if you plan to hire a rental, make sure it has insurance to cover possible dents and dings.

By the same token, if you park anywhere you're not supposed to, you risk getting towed. Travelers to Milan say to avoid above-ground transport at all costs and just take the metro.

If you are driving around in the major cities, do so with caution especially when approaching pedestrian crossings. They are everywhere and not all are marked with a flashing light. Throw in the confidence of the Italian locals who will walk out even with traffic going by and you can see how some folks end up being a part of the annual road accident stats.

The legal drink driving limit in Italy is 0.05%, so watch how many vinos you have at dinner. However, if you have less than 3 years experience, your limit is 0.00%.

Being a Pedestrian in Italy

Be careful while walking around town, pedestrians make up many of Italy's road fatality statistics. Pedestrians or cyclists often hit or are hit by scooters and cars. 

Traffic will speed by without stopping, offering few safe chances to actually cross the road. Motorbikes, Vespas, or mopeds, which are very popular in Italy, do this as often as vehicles. Even more difficult, sidewalks can be narrow and tempt you to walk in the road.

The cultural approach taken by Italians to crossing the road is to wait for a gap in the flow of cars and start crossing. Watch the locals and follow their lead. Some nominally one-way roads let buses travel in the opposite direction, so you should still look both ways before crossing.

Car Crime in Italy

Car jacking often occurs in Catania, Sicily, and break-ins at gas stations and rest stops are common. 

Ignore anyone who tries to flag you down to point out a flat tyre, even if it's true: he or she will try to rob you once you stop. Try to keep driving to the next rest or gas station and get assistance there.

Never leave the car unlocked, lest you are looking for someone to relieve you of your luggage and if you have valuables with you, never leave them in the car or in full view of potential thieves.

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14 Comments

  • Dangerous, dangerous people said

    Italy, a country of idiots with no respect for anyone's personal safety. Drivers seem oblivious to danger and make it clear to pedestrians they will hit you if you get in their way. Be assured, a vehicle in Italy will hit you at speed as you cross a road even if there is a red light immediately in front of it.

    Secondly, this article is dangerously misleading in advising people to 'follow' locals when they need to cross a road. In Italy, the pedestrians are just as unaware of their surroundings or dangers as drivers are and it's this double whammy of incompetence that causes many road deaths and injuries.

    Thirdly, if ever there was an advertisement for why not to ride a motorcycle it's Italy where the alarmingly regular sight of young men in wheel-chairs would send a shiver down the spine of even the most hardened biker.

  • Mazza said

    Italy, a country of idiots...where do you come from?

  • Replying to the first comment said

    Pedestrian in Italy doesn't exist. Simply, your super healthy bro will get the car even to go to a supermaket far away 500 metres.
    I'm a pedestrian, I walk, and I think a car over you 1 times a year is luck(if you don't stay aware probably once a month).
    There are blank strips on the ground, well, cross it without look well and die
    Fix It Again Tony was too funny !

  • barbara said

    wow, pretty offensive there...what if I told you that car accident deaths per 100,000 people are actually higher in the States than Italy, by a long shot...? Like, close to double? (Just over 6 deaths per 100,000 people in Italy vs. over 10 in USA). And deaths per number of vehicles are even worse, Italy just over 7 deaths per 100,000 vehicles, USA over 12...
    Italians might be fast and aggressive, but are more competent drivers than Americans, according to statistics. Got the numbers from Wikepidia. I am assuming you are Americans from the attitude.

  • Jon said

    I just spent 5 weeks road cycling through out northern Italy. Italians have a total disregard for each other's safety, they simply do not care. I absolutely love the country & the way they interact with each other & their hospitality towards tourists. As soon as they operate a vehicle they act like stupid fuckwits. May sound harsh but it's completely true. Moto riders riding on the very edge of their ability taking ridiculous risks & impatient car drivers following suit. 50% of drivers speed & when driving the speed limit the amount of abuse you'll receive is overwhelming. Your road safety is a disgrace Italy, you aren't skilful operators & it's a miracle that your statistics aren't 10 times higher & it's a miracle that I'm about to leave home back to Australia in 1 piece! Do yourself a favour Italy & wise up!!

  • Corinne said

    My father was Italian and I love the country but no one follows any rules or a Highway Code. White lines don't mean 'don't overtake', giveaway signs don't mean 'beware and stop if a car approaches', safe distance between cars appears to be 20cm and obviously there must be an urgency somewhere to make drivers overtake in dangerous conditions! And beware of people stopping suddenly on the side of the road and open their door without watching. I won't mention roundabouts.... Italian drivers are not safe drivers and do not respect others' safety. I still love the country but the reality is what it is.

  • Patrick said

    I sympathise with the gentleman commenting on northern Italy. Having just visited the beautiful lakes around Como I experienced some very risky driving particularly by motor cyclists. The roads already being narrow were shared by , pedestrians, cyclists, cars and motor bikes. There must have been a invisible 3rd lane for motor bikes - that is on my side of the road! As they emptied out on their way home from their weekend break. Amazing that I didn't see an accident with the outrageous overtaking manoeuvres. Really unnecessary stuff. Also in the Como hills coming downhill into a hairpin turn I had to suddenly stop as a driver overtook cyclists on the inside bend - no slowing down - crazy!!!
    So I have invested in a dash cam..... My appreciation of Italian driving. The centre line is to let you know that your traveling in the right direction, no need to indicate but only when police are present. Motorbikes have their own invisible lanes.... Enjoy the thrill of driving in Italy!

  • Ken said

    Having lived in Italy for 17 years the key to safe driving is to be passive and not compete. It is useful to have 2 cars..one tatty beast for the city where invariably your bodywork soon looks like a piece of dented artwork from those inconsiderates who park 10 cm from you and don´t both to re-park and exit the car like normal human beings. Beware also of pedestrians who just run across the road - it is never their fault if there is an accident and you will lose your no claims for sure. Otherwise, it can be fun to experience so long as you don´t get agitated. Just watch but don´t get involved.

  • Josh said

    I don't know how old this article is, but as a current American expat living in Italy I can definitely sympathise with some of these sentiments. Regardless of the statistics cited by Barbara, what universally makes people upset is being scared to death by someone else's negligence. Very worrisome, lately, is the passion with which the Italians have embraced the practise of texting and driving.

  • Neil said

    The one with the attitude I would undoubtedly say is this "person Barbara" I just retired from working for the City of NY for twenty years.I took countless safety COURSE's and have not had an accident or moving violation for 42years,from the day I have had a Drivers License! The drivers in Italy "in my opinion"are the most dangerous drivers in the world,along with the rest of Europe! Most of there license plates should say....I am on a suicide mission,and I might also take you with me!!!!! Your facts are not even remotely close to accurate!! There is more attitude on the roads in Italy than anywhere! And I have been to many parts of the world.And all over the U.S.A So "in my opinion it's best you know your facts before you blurt out incompetence!! Oh and I can. Ack up my mouth with a spotless license for 42 years!And I have a CDL and I am qualified to drive any vehicle with wheels on it!!Be safe out there people,and when a ignorant driver ANYWHERE drives erratic move over and let them go kill the self!! Hopefully they won't take anyone else with them! Oh I almost forgot BAM 💥 Any question ? I didn't think so.Oh and I have many safe driving awards to back up my mouth! Oh again BAM 💥

  • Neil said

    Oh and there are attitudes from all walks of life,that is such a childish remark from this Barbara! Unfortunately some people in this world are stuck on 15 or 16 years old! Suggestion: can't we just all get along! When a person,any person cuts you off,rides your bumper,drives aggressively,road rages!They are not doing it to you personally,they don't even know you.They are obviously very troubled human beings,taking there frustrations out on innocent people on the road.They are killing themselves and other innocent people! Think about it,You have a very very troubled person useing 2 to 3 thousand pounds of steel as a weapon because they can't handle life.I know as a fact I am on point ☝️ Normal people don't flirt with death every day,only people who are not Sane flirt with death on a daily basis!! No matter what the statistics are,One death,five deaths ten deaths."One is to many" God bless all of you,be safe.

  • Anglo-Saxon Bubble said

    Actually, Barbara has posted facts and numbers that show that driving in Italy is LESS dangerous than driving in the US.

    Also, she is right about the American attitude. Americans compare everything to the US. Italy is a small, overpopulated, ancient country. Do you expect to have less traffic and congestion that the US?

    Also, roads and cities were built centuries ago. Do you expect large parking lots and parkways everywhere?

    You must make an effort to understand differences.

    I drive on US highways everyday. I have seen tons of accidents, people eating, drinking and putting make up while driving. Nobody respects the speed limit (55 becomes 65, 70 becomes 80, and so on). Drivers would honk and flash at you if you drive by the speed limit. Then, you have 'characters' drivers (the tough guy with a pick truck, the soccer mom with huge SUV, the Sunday bikers, etc...). You also have road rage accidents (people shooting at each other on the road). Please do not act/think like you are better than Italians...

  • Brian said

    I have just driven around norther Italy for the first and last time. The aggressive stile is intense. The people and places are wonderful. I am from England in a UK spec car, so sat on the wrong side of the road but have driven all over Europe with no issues. Italy is something else. I don't think it's a skill issue but a culture and mindset. They go for overtakes that aren't there. I felt when I crossed into Switzerland that I rejoined the grow up drives. Its a real shame as like I said Italy is wonderful but I won't drive there again.

  • Shags said

    In Italy now, Amalfi Coast, crazy! Won’t drive here again. Mopeds and old narrow streets are main issues. Make sure you get auto insurance!! Nearly every car here has dents & scrapes! Ciao y buena fortuna!

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