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Tips & advice

Driving in Italy: top tips

Driving in Italy needn’t be a challenge, as long as you’ve checked out our handy tips

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For UK-based motorists, driving in Italy can be something of a shock to the system. Compared to the relatively calm and quiet roads in Blighty, the Italian equivalents are anything but – thanks in part to locals sitting a hair's width away from your bumper, waiting for the slightest window to go for a do-or-die overtake.

Provided you make it to the motorway, things can get even more manic. With motorsport-esque lane changes, flashing headlamps expressing their disdain for your ‘slow’ progress and again, locals a hair’s width away from your bumper. That said, the system appears to work, with Italian drivers weaving their way through traffic with a somewhat gentler approach than UK drivers.

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• Driving in France

You’ll soon get the hang of it, and those wonderful Mediterranean landscapes mean there are plenty of arguments for either taking your car to Italy, or renting an Italian hire car when you’re there.

As with any foreign destination, it’s obviously a must to get to grips with the local rules and regulations. We’re all part of the EU so it’s legal to drive on a UK licence, but there are plenty  of traps and pitfalls for the unsuspecting UK motorist to fall into.

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First and foremost, there’s driving on the right. That’s pretty easy, but beware if you’re over-tired and driving somewhere the roads are quiet – a momentary lack of concentration can have devastating consequences. Other things to look out for include unusual Italian road signs, while Italian speed limits are not the same as here in the UK either.

Keep a lookout for Limited Traffic Zones in urban areas where cars are excluded, and of course you need to know exactly what kit is required in the car to keep it legal. That’s on top of the paperwork you may be required to show in the event of a police stop, and of course making sure you’ve adequate insurance for driving in Italy is one of the basics.

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It’s all pretty basic stuff, but you need to be on top of it before even thinking of driving a car in Italy. That’s why we’ve prepared this useful guide, so read on for some useful tips and advice.

Read on for our detailed breakdown of rules, regulations and road manners you should know about before driving in Italy...

Which documents do I need to drive in Italy?

A full and valid UK driver’s licence lets you drive in Italy and all European Union countries. Further documents you will need to carry are proof of insurance and car ownership (V5C) as well as a passport or national identity card.

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You’ll also need an International Driving Permit and a motor insurance Green Card if the UK leaves the EU on a no deal basis on 29 March 2019.

What else do I need to carry in my car when driving in Italy?

The Italian authorities require each car to carry warning triangles and reflective jackets in case you become stranded on the side of the road – reflective jackets are a compulsory attire when immobilised in poor visibility conditions.

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Italian law also requires each UK car without a GB-euro symbol numberplate to display a GB sticker. All cars must run with daytime running lights or side lights on at all times, but UK drivers in their right-hand drive cars will need to fit headlamp beam deflectors to avoid dazzling other motorists.

Speed camera detectors are on the banned item list in Italy. But unlike in France, you can use your navigation system to warn of fixed speed camera locations. The use of mobile phones is not allowed while driving in Italy, but Italian authorities do permit the use of hands-free and Bluetooth devices.

Driving in Italy checklist:

  • • Full and valid driver’s licence
  • • V5C
  • • Proof of Insurance
  • • Passport/national ID
  • • Reflective jackets
  • • Warning triangles
  • • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • • GB sticker (non GB-euro symbol cars only)

What is the alcohol limit for driving in Italy?

Unlike in France, the law in Italy does not require you to carry a breathalyser kit while driving, but it is just as stringent as France when it comes to drink-drive limits. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05 per cent or 0 per cent for professional drivers and new drivers with less than three years driving experience.

Italian Autostrada tolls and petrol prices

Italian Autostrada motorways are interspersed with tollbooths that charge a distance specific fee. The 215km drive from Milan to Bologna will set you back €14.60 or €20.00 if you’re towing a caravan or trailer.

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Italy also has higher fuel prices than the UK, with a litre of petrol costing around €1,70 in Italy compared to €1,50 in the UK, something motorists with thirstier cars need to account for. 

Driving in Italy: insurance and breakdown cover

Most UK insurance companies allow for 90 days of cover in EU countries – but the majority will only provide third party cover. Confirm the type of insurance cover you will have in Italy before you leave. You may want to upgrade to a more comprehensive policy.

Unlike insurance, breakdown cover is not a mandatory requirement in Italy. It is nevertheless a welcome addition to any family journey. The bigger breakdown providers will do Europe-wide coverage, but this is often an add-on to the basic policy. Check with your provider the type of cover you have, and if necessary you can purchase single trip cover online.

You should also be aware that if no specific post-Brexit arrangements are made and you are involved in a collision with another motorist in Italy, who you wish to make a claim against, you may find yourself dealing with a foreign insurance company and having to speak Italian, as your insurer may not be obliged to assist you and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) will no longer be available for help outside the UK.

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Furthermore, if you find yourself in a situation where you have had an accident with an uninsured driver in Italy, the MIB will not pay you any compensation like they would if the incident occurred in the UK.

Driving in Italy: top tips

Take note of local driving customs

Like France, unwritten rules dictate the driving etiquette in Italy. Lane changing and tailgating is not an unusual sight on the roads, and gaps in traffic are rarely left unexploited by the locals. A flash of the lights can mean the driver is not going to stop, not an invitation to join the road like in the UK and the horn is used on a far more regular basis.

Speed limits vary according to weather

Speed limits in Italy vary according to the road and weather conditions. In normal conditions the motorway national speed limit is 130km/h (80mph) and 110km/h (70mph) in the wet. Outside built up areas the national speed limit drops to 90 km/h and 50km/h when you reach the cities. In cities and unmarked intersections those coming from the right have priority, unless otherwise stated.

Watch out for ZTL zones in cities

Many city centres are protected by ZTL (zona a traffico limitato) sectors that are exclusive zones for residents only. A wrong turn into a ZTL can result in a hefty fine caught by the many traffic cameras – the amount of the fine is city and time dependent. Keep an eye of for ZTL zone signposts around the cities.

Enjoy the amazing roads

Away from the cities, some of the best driving roads in Europe can be found in Italy. The Dolomites are always worth a visit – we recommend the route from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo, and the infamous Stelvio Pass is always worth mentioning. But before you set off to explore these stretches of tarmac, have a read through our checklist to make sure you won’t get caught empty handed by the Polizia.

Have you ever driven in Italy? Give us your top tips in the comments section below...

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