Driving in Italy: Rules & Laws

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You’ve decided that you don’t want to rely on trains and buses for your travels in Italy. Now you plan to rent a car. This is a great way for tourists to explore the country, and it can also be a cost-effective way to transport families or other groups. However, you need to know the Italian driving laws before renting a car.

Check out my other articles: Driving through Italy 101, and Italian Road Signs 101

Before you go: Applying for an International Driving Permit

Italian law requires foreigners who drive in Italy to have an International Priving Permit (IDP). It’s not a test that must be completed, but it will tell non-English speakers that your license allows you to drive in your country. Your regular driver’s licence will also be required as these documents must work together. For $15, licensed drivers aged 18 or older can obtain an IDP from AAA in the USA. For PS8.50, AA in the UK requires a regular driver’s license. For U.S. drivers, visit the AAA website. You can also find out what the application requires and what you will need to bring on the AA website.

Truthfully, many people haven’t bothered to obtain an IDP for their trip to Italy. You won’t be refused a car if you don’t have one. Rental car companies won’t even ask you if you have one. However, I recommend that you have one so that you don’t get stopped by the Italian police. You may be able get more use from it than you think.

Italian Driving Laws

Driving laws in Italy will be similar to those in your country, provided you are not in the UK, Australia, Japan or any other place where driving on one side is the norm. It’s important that you are aware of some rules of the road in Italy, which are stricter than those in the United States.

  • Always wear a seat belt
  • It is illegal to drink and drive in Italy.
  • Italy has strict speed limits. Foreign drivers who don’t know better will be subject to heavy fines. Italy’s speed limits are 130kmph (80mph), on highways like Autostrada, and 50kmph to 110kmph for other roads. Because of their proximity to urban centers, some highways have lower speeds than you would expect. Keep an eye out for speed limit changes.
  • Mobile phones cannot be used while driving.
  • It is illegal to drive in a bus or bike lane.
  • Children younger than 12 years old are not allowed to ride in front of cars. Children up to four years old must be in child safety seats.
  • Italy and many other European countries require all cars to have reflective safety vests. In case of a need to pull over on the side of the road, the vests will make you visible to other drivers. Technically, vests cannot be stored in the trunk. You would need to get out the car without a vest in order to retrieve the vest. Before you leave, make sure to check with your rental car company for the exact location of safety vests.
  • It doesn’t matter if it is dark or bright outside, headlights must always be on when you drive in Italy. Modern cars have daytime running lights, but you will need to manually turn them on if your car does not.
  • It is only for passing that the left lanes on any multi-lane road are used. It is rare to see Italian drivers driving in the left lane of a multi-lane road with the same frequency as Americans. This is a great way to show other drivers that you are only using the left lane to pass, and you will turn back to the right after you’re done. You won’t end up looking like a snarling Italian if you continue to drive in the left lane. If you are passing, stay to the right. Period.
  • This is not a law, it’s a courtesy to others drivers. However, if a car pulls up in front of you and flashes its headlights it means “Hey, would it mind terribly scooting to the right and slowing down to make me pass you easier?” It’s not an indication that they are angry… unless you ignore them.

Italian driving laws violations can result in a ticket or a substantial fine. You’ll be fined more if you don’t pay them on time. The ticket will go to the rental company first, before it reaches you. The rental car company may also charge a fee.

Or, in other words: If you follow the rules, everyone will return home happy.

Italy Parking Rules

It can be difficult to park a car in one of Italy’s cities. It was not possible to park a car in historic towns with large streets and lots of parking spaces. So, Italians had to be creative about where and how they park their cars. This is not always a good thing but it can be quite amusing. This is the story of how a group of locals painted a newly-designated bus-only area .

Ask if the hotel has a designated parking area nearby if you are staying in one. If they don’t have one, ask where you can find parking. Also, inquire about whether you will need a permit. You’ll find signs of parking regulations along streets and curbs if you know where to look.

  • Parking is free in areas painted white.
  • Pay-to-park is available in areas painted blue. An automated machine will be located nearby. This will give you a ticket which you will put on your dashboard to make it visible from the outside. Some hotels offer special permits for residents in blue areas. You are limited in time so make sure you know how long you can stay in a parking space.
  • Yellow areas are designated for handicapped parking. The permit must be displayed in the car. Yellow areas can also be loading/unloading areas.

Parking lots and garages are often located in towns or cities. Some are underground, while others are easily accessible. If you are staying in a hotel, or at a tourist information office, you can usually find the location of garages and parking lots from them.

Pollution Restrictions

In an effort to reduce the pollution, some Italian cities have placed restrictions on driving within their urban centres. If you rent a car, you will likely be informed. However, if you don’t know what the restrictions are, you can always ask the rental company.

These restrictions are often referred to as “congestion fees” which are surcharges for driving within the city centre. However, they can sometimes prevent certain cars from being used on specific days. For example, plates with odd numbers would be permitted one day, and plates with even numbers the next. Some cities have strict restrictions and allow it on an as-needed basis.

For a variety of reasons, I do not recommend driving in Italy’s major cities.

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11 Responses to “Driving In Italy: Laws & Rules of the Road”.

  • Felix Bellini says:

    What is the maximum age for a USA driving licence? We are grateful.

    • Jess has the following:

      Felix, I don’t think I understand your question. What is the maximum age limit? In other words, a person cannot drive in Italy if they are older than X?

  • Julieta says:

    Hello! Hello!

    • Jess has the following:

      The information in the section “Before You Drive: Obtaining an International Driving Permit” may be geared towards US or UK drivers but it is applicable to all non-Italian drivers.

  • Susanna di Valfabbrica says:

    Get your IDL. Even in remote areas, you can rent a car or exchange a rental car by asking for your IDL. If the Polizia Stradiale or worse, “nostri Amici in macchine Azurro Scuro Erosso” (Carabinieri) ask for your passport and documenti… then your trip becomes even more interesting.

    Parking is another thing. Parking signs will still be visible, especially in small towns. You don’t have to pay your parking ticket if you forget or are late returning. Parking tickets are not something you want to pay. (Again, another “interesting experience

    • Jess has the following:

      Susanna, thank you for your advice! I am a cautious person so I would always choose the IDL. However, I know many people who do not.

  • Jay Clifton says:

    Hello, I found this site and related websites on driving and road signs very helpful. You might consider adding something on how to approach roundabouts. I live in Salento and teach English. I’m still learning how to drive here, but roundabouts are the most confusing. We are grateful!

    • Jessica says:

      Americans don’t have much experience with roundabouts.

    • jlw

      Sorry for this little help. However, IF it is anything like Spain, the law states that the left-hand (or inside) lane must be used for overtaking even at roundabouts. It is logical to use the outside lane to go 1/4 turn around, and then the inside lane for the 3/4 turns at the roundabout. Drivers tend to do one or the other, which can lead to many near misses. It will probably be similar in Italy, but I can’t confirm. I would advise you to keep in the outside lane until you feel more confident, understand the system better, and be aware of people who are cutting in front of your.

  • Renee

    I have recently purchased a ticket to Italy, but at the moment am only dealing directly with the rental car agency. They claim they don’t have the ticket details. It could take up to two years for the Italian government to send me the ticket, in which case the fine would be severe. How do I get in touch with Italy to find out the purpose of my ticket and pay it off faster?

    • Jessica says:

      That’s terrible. I am so sorry that I don’t have the answer to your question. It might help if you can find someone within the rental car company that is actually in Italy (in your city of origin), Sorry!

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