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Italy - Driving

In Italy, people drive on the right side of the road, just like in the US and Canada. Cars manufactured locally have the steering wheel on the left.

Given below are some of the standard traffic rules and regulations followed all over the country:

The legal minimum age is 18 years for driving a car, 16 years for a motorbike and 14 years for a moped
The blood alcohol limit for a driver behind the wheel is 0.051%
Seatbelts are mandatory for people sitting at the front of the car, i.e., the driver and co-driver
Children should sit in a car seat that has been adapted to their size and must wear safety belts
Drivers cannot talk on their mobile phones when the car is in motion (unless they use the hands free)
Bus and cycle lanes cannot be accessed by cars
Headlights should be on whenever the car is on a motorway and even on carriageways outside towns

While Italian drivers are known to flaunt the driving regulations on occasion, expats should definitely refrain from doing do.

The flow of traffic in the countryside is generally under control. However, driving in the city-traffic during rush hours (7:30AM to 10:00AM and 17:00PM to 20:30) is nothing short of a nightmare for most commuters.

Italian authorities suspend traffic in certain cities at times, in order to control pollution. To ensure that no one is badly affected by the restriction, they alternate between odd and even (dispari/ pari) registration plates. Anyone caught driving with the “wrong” number plate is liable to pay a fine. Cars that meet the Euro 4 pollution standards can enter the city in spite of the restriction.

Italian drivers always give “right of way” to emergency vehicles, buses and trams, mainly out of their civic sense. In the cities and bigger towns, priority is given to vehicles that join the traffic from the right side of the road, unless stated otherwise. A flashing amber traffic light is a signal that drivers should proceed with caution, but give way to traffic on the right. If two vehicles are stuck on an inclined road, the vehicle traveling uphill is given priority.

There are primarily four types of roads in Italy:

Motorway or freeway known as Autostrada
Major roads, with more than one lane in each direction or at least fast moving lanes
Minor roads, which are slow and winding, probably with only one lane in each direction
White roads (strade bianche), the narrow dirt roads that go through the countryside

The speed limit in Italy varies, depending upon the type of road. People can drive at a speed of 130Km/h on the motorways and 110 km/h on the main highways. The speed limit on the trunk roads is 90 km/h and in residential areas is 50 km/h. Any driver who has had a license for less than 3 years shouldn’t drive at a speed over 100 km/h on the motorways and 90 km/h on the main highway.

Italy has adopted the standard road signage used across Europe. American expats may find it a bit difficult to read & follow the signs though. The main types of signs seen across the roads include warning signs, prohibition signs, mandatory signs, informative signs and directional signs.

Warning signs are triangular in shape with a thick red border and white background. They are generally placed about 150 meters before the area of reference. On the other hand, prohibition signs, which are circular in shape and also have a thick red border with a white background, are placed exactly on the spot they are referring to.

Mandatory instructional signs inform drivers about the directions and speed restrictions for the road. These circular signs have a thin white border and a blue background. The instructional diagrams are in white.

Informative signs generally let the drivers know details about hospitals, pedestrian crossings, petrol stations and so on close by. These signs are rectangular or square in shape with a thin white border and blue background. On the motorways, informative signs have a green background.

Directional road signs vary in shape and color, depending upon where they are located. On the motorways, these signs have a green background with white lettering. On main roads, these signs are blue with white lettering if they have information about one destination and white with black lettering, if they carry information about more than one destination.

Most of the signs across the country are in Italian. However, the bigger cities that get a higher number of tourists and expats have now started placing road signs in English too. For more information on road signs in Italy, log on to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs_in_Italy

When it comes to traffic lights, the international 3-color system is followed all over the country. Drivers have to come to a complete stop at a red light. The amber light tells motorists to slow down as they will soon have to stop at a red traffic light. Drivers can only move when the light turns green. A flashing red-light indicates that drivers need to stop before a level crossing and a flashing amber-light is an indication to slow down or proceed with caution.

Italy’s infrastructure has been undergoing a change in the recent past. Roundabouts have started replacing traffic lights at more junctions. This system has been in existence in a few countries like France for a while now and has proved to be an effective way of controlling traffic without slowing it down.

There are certain documents that should be kept within the car at all times, like the vehicle’s registration papers, the car tax receipt and the insurance certificate. Some of the other items that should also be carried in every car include –

A Trangolo or a red warning triangle that is used in case of an accident or if the car breaks down
A reflective vest
A spare tire and a tool kit

Vehicles with 10 or more seats should have special documentation. During the winter months, drivers are advised to carry a shovel, snow chains, blankets, ice scrapers and antifreeze.

The number of road accidents occurring in Italy has gone up significantly, as compared to the previous years. In 2013, there were an estimated 182,700 road accidents, which resulted in death or injury among the passengers. While the number of road accidents in Italy is relatively higher as compared to the UK, it is much lower than the US.

Unlike the US, petrol stations in Italy are manned. An operator fills fuel while the driver provides instructions on the amount and type of fuel preferred. There are two types of fuel available in the country: unleaded petrol and diesel. On average, people pay between €1.77 and €1.90 for super or premium petrol and €1.68 for diesel.

According to the Italian Highway Code (Codice della Strada), it is compulsory to help in case of an accident, whether you are involved or are just passing by. Anyone involved in an accident should:

Stop the car immediately
Wear the reflective jacket, especially if it is nighttime or the weather is bad
Use the hazard light and place the Trangolo to warn the oncoming traffic
Get in touch with the police (carabinieri) on 112
Call 118 to reach the Health Emergency (Emergenza Sanitaria) line
If required, call 113 to get in touch with the Emergency Aid (Soccorso Publico di Emergenza)
Give the exact details about the accident and wait for help to arrive

In case a car breaks down in any part of Italy, dial 116 for the 24-hour assistance. This line also has English speaking operators. Alternately, the motorways have SOS phones placed at every 2 kilometers. These red phones have two buttons to connect you to medical help (soccorso medico) services and road emergency (assistenza stradale).

If there are no injuries and both parties involved in an accident agree on the facts, there is no need to inform the police. For insurance purposes though, an accident report must be completed.

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