Contrary to popular opinion, I have to say that Italian drivers don’t seem at all bad, at least up here in Northern Italy. Yes, there are some mad ones, but then you get mad drivers in most countries.
Where are all the Roundabouts?
Something you may notice when driving in Italy is that roundabouts are few and far between, and when you do come across them, you do need to be a little circumspect. Why? Because some follow the system used in England where the driver going round the roundabout has precedence, but many others still follow the ‘driver coming on to the roundabout gets precedence’ rule, which also exists in France.
As I said before, roundabouts are not that common; you will not find many in Milan or Genova or the surrounding areas. So, what do they use instead? Good old traffic lights of course, millions of them. This could be why Italian drivers are a little impatient at times. I mean you would start to get a wee bit het up if you had to stop every half kilometre or so for a red light, wouldn’t you? I do.
Getting Beeped at Traffic Lights
I went for a quick spin today and only got beeped at only once. Where, you might ask? At a set of traffic lights, of course. You do tend to find that if you hesitate for any longer than a, er, nanosecond, the driver behind will beep his horn to wake you up. I now do this too, just for fun, just to show how well I have adapted to Italian culture. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Direction Indicators which Don’t
Another little thing is the fact that many cars here seem to have direction indicators which just do not work. It’s strange this problem often afflicts quite new cars. It is also just as likely that you will get stuck behind someone with a penchant for tootling along at 30kmh here, as sometimes happens in the UK. This sort of scotches the stereotypical opinion that all Italians drive with their foot flat to the floor.
Those Weekend Traffic Jams
There is one problem here which puts me off going out of Milan at the weekends, but it has got nothing to do with the way people drive, it is connected to the number of people who drive.
Now, as I was saying, I don’t like going out of Milan because there are often huge queues to get back into the city again. These queues are particularly bad during the summer or during holiday periods. I am always hearing stories of nightmarishly long trips back to Milan. The latest marathon trip was travelled by some friends of ours who took some 7 hours to drive back from the Cortina area of the Dolomites. I think it took them about 3 hours to get there. So, if you want to go out of Milan and avoid the jams, use the train, although I have to say that trains do not often get you to really interesting places.
One other thing, as people are probably aware, the motorways here are toll roads. Guess where some of the longest queues are when everybody is trying to get back into the city? Yep, at these toll booths. It’s worth remembering that at the major toll areas, you can pay the fee by credit card. This saves you having to mess around with coins and notes. Just get into to right lane, though, or you might not be able to use your plastic.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
I should point out that all my observations are based on what happens here in the north.
Driving Down in South Italy
With regard to driving in the south of Italy, I have heard people say that many drivers in Naples suffer from red/green colour blindness, so they find it difficult to understand when to stop, this means at most traffic lights they don’t. I’ve been to Naples and can attest to the colour blindness which exists there. It could be related to tomato overdoses, I suppose.
Another problem which afflicts many riders of two wheeled transport, especially in the south of Italy, is forgetfulness. You see they are always leaving their helmets at home.
Colour blindness and forgetfulness are not big problems in the north.
Confusing Road Signs
Before I bring this note to an end, there is one other thing which affects driving here – the road signs. They can cause one or two problems if you are not paying attention, or you do not know where you are going. Come to think of it not many tourists know where they are going, I mean you just follow a map, don’t you, or use the GPS.
Road signs in Italy can be confusing, to say the least. OK, the problem is, especially in rural areas, that you will often see signposts listing six or seven destinations – they do like to spoil you for choice here – but this does make it problematic to identify that one little place you were aiming for. Where possible, slowing down considerably, or perhaps even stopping should enable you to spot the place name which interests you.
Now, you’ve identified your destination from the signpost, you’re driving off down the requisite road and you are on your way. You drive happily along. You keep driving. On and on. You start to feel a little worried. You think: I must have missed the turn or something, because I have not seen any more signs mentioning my destination. You are wrong, you have not missed the turn, but you are right about the signs. You often find this, after a good start the direction signs seem to dry up, until that is, you are about two metres from your destination.
I’ve only seen this system in one other place in the world – Milton Keynes in the UK. Milton Keynes is a new town and its great claim to fame was that it was all planned at the same time. Whilst this is a good idea in theory, in practice it means that instead of making lots of little mistakes, you tend to make several big ones. I digress. Watch out for those signs. They love to sneak up on you.
All in all, though, driving in northern Italy is not too harrowing. Or is it that I’ve been here too long!