THE FOLLOWING ARE MANDATORY WHEN DRIVING IN ITALY AND MUST BE CARRIED IN THE VEHICLE AT ALL TIMES:
* VEHICLE REGISTRATION DOCUMENT
* LETTER OF AUTHORITY TO DRIVE, IF YOU ARE NOT THE OWNER OF THE VEHICLE
* CURRENT M.O.T. CERTIFICATE
* CURRENT CERTIFICATE OF INSURANCE (MULTI-LINGUAL ON REVERSE)
* PHOTOCARD DRIVING LICENCE OR INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT, IF YOUR DRVING LICENCE DOES NOT HAVE A PHOTOGRAPH, A PASSPORT IS NEEDED TO VALIDATE THE DRIVING LICENCE.
* SPARE BULB KIT
* WARNING TRIANGLE
* FIRST AID KIT
* INTERNATIONAL ACCIDENT DECLARATION FORM
* HIGH VISABILITY TABARDS (VESTS) THESE ARE NOW COMPULSARY AND MUST BE WITHIN EASY REACH OF THE DRIVER. A suitable high visibility vest is supplied by Advanced Safety Products and conforms to BS EN471: 1994 Class 2
* Suggested Extras: Unshakeable nerves and change of underwear.
Children in cars:
Children under four-years-old cannot travel unless they use a suitable restraint system. Children between four and 12 cannot travel in the front unless using a suitable restraint system.
The use of these telephones is prohibited unless a full hands-free system is fitted in the vehicle. Bluetooth systems are not permitted.
Dipped headlights must be used in poor daytime visibility and in all tunnels at all times. They must also be used when on motorways, and (we believe) dual carriageways, and (again we believe) on all out of town roads as from August 2004. Motorcycles must use dipped headlights during the day at all times.
Drinking and Driving:
Italy has stricter drink driving laws than the U.K. 0.25mg of alcohol per litre of blood compared with 0.4 in the U.K. Our advice is DO NOT drink and drive, any reading above 0.05% can lead to imprisonment.
Compulsory for front and rear seat occupants, if fitted.
These are now compulsory in Italy if you need to walk on a motorway. You don't have to carry one, but if you breakdown on the motorway you will be breaking the law if you walk to an emergency phone without one. A suitable high visibility vest is supplied by Advanced Safety Products and conforms to BS EN471: 1994 Class 2.
On the spot fines are issued. Ensure the officer collecting the fine issues an official receipt. Speeding fines range from 32,80€ to 131,20€ for excesses lower than 10 km/h and from 131,20€ to 524,78€ for excesses from 10 to 40 km/h. Beyond, the fines can go from 328€ to 1311,99€.
Speed limits: These are implemented rigorously. Radar traps are frequent.
Towns = 50 km/h.
Open Road = 90kph (80km/h if wet)
Dual Carriageways = 110km/h (90km/h if wet)
Motorways = 130km/h (110km/h if wet)
From 1 January 2003 some three-lane motorways with emergency lanes may have a speed limit of 93mph (150km/h).
Almost all Autostradas (except some of those south of Naples) are toll roads. The easiest way to pay tolls is to use a major credit card. When you get to the exit ramp, look for the lanes with a large sign showing the pictures of the various credit cards. Insert the toll ticket first (with the arrow pointing forward), then your credit card (with the hologram out). If the machine "talks to you," it's telling you to turn your card around the other way. To get a receipt, push the red button after you retrieve your credit card.
Overtaking & Being Overtaken: There is a four-part protocol for this manoeuvre.
* If being passed, you should put the right set of tyres on the shoulder, if at all practical. This makes two lanes three. We have been able to pass on two lane roads in Italy with traffic approaching because the approaching car put their right wheel on the shoulder, too. This action is not for the unfamiliar or the faint of heart.
* If you are passing, but intend to maintain speed, and return to the right (most of us), you should leave your left turn signal on until you are ready to return to the right when you change to your right turn signal.
* If you are travelling in the left lane, and intend to go as fast as your car allows, do not put on your turn signal.
* If you are in the left lane, approaching someone from behind who is going slower and you have no turn signal on, flash your lights at them. It is their responsibility to get out of your way. If you are on the receiving end of one of these 'light horns', get the hell out of the way! What are you waiting for? This is particularly frightening when going through a tunnel on a bright day, you cannot see the lines on the road well and someone comes up from behind.
* The rule is simple and clear: Fast cars stay to the left, slow cars to the right.
Fact: Cars in the fast lane of the Autostrada move much faster than 130 km/h. STAY OUT OF THEIR WAY - THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING!
Network Numbering - Chaotic:
Autostradas have single-digits in some prominent routes and others wasted on minor ones - A1 runs Milano-Napoli while A9 is a five mile link from the A8 to the Swiss border. The A2 no longer exists; it was once the A1 between Roma and Napoli. Others have two-digit numbers, dished out in no particular order: A11 is near Firenze, A14 is the east coast route, and A19 is on Sicilia, for example.
Strade Statale radiate from Roma 1-7, then 8 and 9 lie elsewhere in important routes. Other two-digit ones form very important links and roads; two and three digit ones have no immediately obvious method of numbering: the idea seems to be to spread out close-together numbers to avoid confusion. To add to the joy, most are named, mostly arbitrarily or after old Roman Road.
Hence SS1 is Aurelia; SS2 (which at times inexplicably becomes SR2) is Cassia, and so on.
Strade Provinziale and Strade Comunale are never shown on maps and only occasionally signed, and have a different system in each province or commune, so it's doubtful there's any real coherent system (there isn't for any other type of numbering!).
No junction numbers, but instead names, which are usually the nearest town sometimes with nord/sud/est/ovest tagged on the end. These usually appear on maps. Signs appear a rather alarming 700m before the exit, with a diagrammatic sign white-on-green showing one forward destination and the name of the exit, along with a speed restriction for the slip road (inevitably an impossible amount below the speed of traffic on the road). Another sign at 500m gives a listing of destinations - usually white on blue unless intersecting another Autostrada -, which literally appear as a bulleted listing. Patching is used for Autostrada and tourist attractions. Final signing appears on a gantry, with one forward destination and the name of the exit, and a small flag sign at the fork point again with the exit name. The name of the exit is also written across the road surface for the terminally stupid.
Impossible. If you need to know, it's either not there or written very small. If it's of no consequence, it's likely to be written in huge letters three or four times over. Tolled roads (Autostrada) have white-on-green signs, and are signed from other roads as such. Autostrada numbers appear in white-outline octagons, which are sized to match the text size, and so are unreadable in almost all cases. Free roads are signed in white on blue, and road numbers are sized small again so as to be unreadable until you get out of the car and have a look. Destinations within towns and cities are signed black-on-white, industrial areas in yellow-on-black, and tourist areas in black-on-yellow or white-on-brown depending on what kind of mood the sign maker is in at the time. Most within-town destinations come with a little pictogram. Place names appear in capitals, other locations in all-lower case, and each item gets its own sign with chevron signs. They are often a mix-and-match of colours and types, so a roundabout exit may read "ROMA A1, ospedale, zona industriale, GROSETTO, ROMA SS2 Cassia, centro".
These places appear and vanish as and when they please, with no warning. It's hard to even trust a sign saying Roma is one way when you miss the exit and see it signed elsewhere at the next junction.
Road numbers are obsessively signed to say they are marginalized on signs - big "start" and "finish" boards at the beginning of any numbered road and in-between marker signs or carved milestones every hundred metres to chart your progress. Distances to the next town are most lacking - on Autostrada these come at the kilometre posts in the central reservation - one place at a time, in hopelessly small and faded lettering.
You need a quirk after all that? Due to the reluctance to change the alignment of any Strada Statale, replacement routes are named instead. Hence the SS2 between Siena and Firenze is superseded by the "Raccordo Siena-Firenze", abbreviated to SI-FI and signed varyingly as a Superstrada, Autostrada, Raccordo (link), 4-Corsie (4-lanes) or the SI-FI. There was also the FI-PI-LI (Firenze-Pisa-Livorno), which actually forked at one end so it didn't connect all three in reality.
These are generally well observed but the choice of lanes is not. The car next to you may well be in the 'straight ahead' lane but this should not be taken as any form of guarantee that it won't turn left by cutting across in front of you.
Motorway slip roads
The notion that these are an opportunity for motorists to a) get their car up to speed and b) wait for a gap in the traffic in the slow lane is utterly alien. The driver of a car on the approach slip will consider that he or she is already on the motorway and that as a car ahead of you, you should be the one to accommodate them and not vice versa.
No-one indicates unless it is by mistake. The use of an indicator suggests a commitment to a particular route or course and this has all sorts of legal implications to the Italian mind. No indicator does not mean the oncoming car is going straight ahead - it could be about to stop, turn left, right or reverse. If up or down were possible, it would mean those too.
The best place to pass on a road is approaching a bend since the assumption is that no-one else would be crazy enough to be doing the same coming the other way. A 'No overtaking' sign means the road is only wide enough to accommodate three vehicles side-by-side as opposed to dual carriageway and 'speed limit' signs refer to the minimum recommended speed.
Other road users
Other vehicles are deemed to be either obstacles (if they are slow moving) or competitors if they are a bit faster. A complete stranger will see it as a personal challenge to beat you off of the lights but, unlike other cultures, will not get angry should you beat them.
Flashed aggressively two or three times by the car behind you (the one that has magnetically attached itself to your boot at about 80 mph in the fast lane) when it wishes to leave your acquaintance in favor of another vehicle 100 metres or so up the motorway. Headlights are also used to indicate the car coming towards you is moving into a space - ie 'get out of my way'.
The roads are overcrowded, narrow, hilly, winding, badly surfaced, bumpy, appallingly signed, appallingly designed and maintained, ridiculously slow and unbelievably dangerous. The drivers are lunatics who only just master driving on the right and who will park on a postage stamp providing they can nudge the cars either side out of the way. Try it. You haven't lived until you have!