So, you’ve decided you’re not content with just taking trains and buses to get around in Italy, and you’re going to rent a car. It’s a great way to see parts of the country many visitors miss, and can be an economical way to transport a family or other group – but it’s important to understand Italian driving laws before you get behind the wheel.
Italian law requires foreign visitors who get behind the wheel to carry an International Priving permit (IDP). There’s no test to complete, don’t worry – it basically tells non-English speakers that you’re licensed to drive in your home country. You’ll need to bring your regular driver’s license with you, too, as the two documents work in tandem. Licensed drivers age 18 and up can get an IDP at AAA in the United States for $15 or AA in the UK for £8.50. Find out more, including what’s on the application and what you need to bring, on the AAA website for U.S. drivers and AA website for UK drivers.
Truth be told, I know many people who have never bothered to get an IDP for an Italy trip. Rental car companies don’t ask if you have one, so you won’t be denied a car. I’d still recommend getting one, though, so that if you get pulled over by the Italian police you’ll have all your proverbial ducks in their rows. It’s not a huge expense, and an IDP is valid for one year, so you may be able to get even more use out of it.
For the most part, driving laws in Italy are probably quite similar to driving laws in your country (provided you’re not in the UK or Australia or Japan or another place where driving on the left side of the road is the norm). There are a few rules of the road that are more strictly enforced in Italy than in the United States, for instance, so it’s important to be aware of them.
Violations of Italian driving laws means getting a ticket and a pretty sizable fine. Those fines just get worse when you’re late in paying them, which you’ll certainly be since the ticket goes to the rental car company first before it eventually makes its way to you. And the rental car company will likely add a fee for their troubles, too.
In other words? Follow the rules and everyone goes home happy.
Parking a car in any of Italy’s city centers can be a big hassle. Historic towns weren’t designed with wide streets or space for parking lots, so Italians have had to get creative with where and how they park. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s often amusing. Take, for instance, this story of a few locals repainting a recently-designated bus-only zone.
If you’re staying in a hotel, ask if they’ve got a dedicated parking lot somewhere nearby. If they don’t, ask them where they recommend you look for parking, and whether you’ll need a permit for that area. If you know what to look for, you’ll see indications of parking regulations on streets and curbs.
Some cities and towns have parking lots or parking garages just outside city centers, too, which are easy to use if not always easy to find – some are underground. You can usually find out the location of parking lots and garages from hotels if you’re staying in one, or from the tourist information office.
Some Italian cities now have restrictions on driving in their urban centers in an effort to reduce pollution levels. You’ll likely be notified of this if you’re renting a car and say that you’re planning to drive in one of the cities with such restrictions, but if you’re not sure you should ask the rental car company.
What these restrictions often mean are surcharges for driving in the city center (called “congestion charges”), though sometimes they prevent some cars from being used on certain days. License plates ending in odd numbers, for instance, would be allowed one day and even-numbered plates the next. Sometimes it’s on an as-needed basis, and some cities have restrictions in place at all times.
I recommend not driving in Italy’s big cities anyway, for a number of reasons, and this just adds another reason to my list.