Observations on Driving in Italy

“In Italy, all the drivers are experts. The rest are dead”

When I first started driving in Italy (30 years ago) I was advised that the Italians drove by a strict set of rules, but those rules were not necessarily the same as the ones posted on signage or printed in drivers’ handbooks. For example – speed limits are advisory, not absolute. No passing zones are widely ignored so you should expect to be passed at any time. Passing on the right on the other hand, is frowned upon and rarely happens, you never, ever ‘camp’ in the left lane on a divided highway, never impede fast drivers in the left lane, and so on.

The most interesting ‘rule’ is that on rural roads, one should expect to be passed on the left at any time, irrespective of the presence of oncoming traffic. If there is oncoming traffic, the car being passed (me) skootches as far to the right as possible, the oncoming car skootches to their right, and the passing car goes right down the middle of the road – temporarily making the two-lane highway into a three-lane. What would have been a head-on collision in rural US happens often enough in Italy that it is handled calmly by the drivers involved.

I’ve been passed like that many times – even by a bus full of German tourists. The bus straddled the centerline, oncoming traffic moved to their right, I moved my rented 750cc Fiat to my right, and the bus went down the middle. Nobody panicked or crashed.

I even tried it one time. Everyone got out of my way of my crappy little rental car as I drove down the middle of the road.

I got so used to this that when an oncoming car was being passed on a rural road in Minnesota – a potential head-on collision – I simply skootched my car to the right shoulder, maintained my speed, and let the oncoming car ‘borrow’ my lane for a few seconds. No big deal.

Pics or it didn’t happen:

White car overtaking into oncoming traffic (us). We and the red car ahead of us move to our right. The car(s) being overtaken move to their right.
(2004, Calabria)
Red car overtaking us and another car on a curve. We and the blue car moved to the right to allow the pass.
(2004, Calabria)

Stressful at first – but one gets used to it.

We also have had driving adventures with Roman taxis. In this last trip we took a Roman taxi for five miles from the airport and to our hotel. In that short trip the taxi driver drove double the speed limit on 2-lane roads, passed into oncoming traffic, cut off other cars on roundabouts and ran every single stop sign.

As fun as an E-ticket ride at Disney World.

This trip, in rural Viterbo, we didn’t run into this form of passing at all. Either that region has calmer drivers or maybe Italian drivers in general are a bit more chill than they used to be?







2 responses to “Observations on Driving in Italy”

  1. rushenge

    Same thing in Sweden. Drive down the middle of the road to pass. A little scary.

    1. Takes some getting used to. 🙂

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