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The Dangerous Heart of Italy

Milan Accident

Italy can be quite a dangerous place.  In fact there are various ways in which people can come to an untimely end in this country.  In order of lethality these are driving, working, and stepping on toes.


Sorry, driving, is a little misleading, because pedestrians are also at risk from Italy’s gung-ho drivers.  The figures seem to speak for themselves.  According to an article on the Reuters website 8.47 pedestrians per 1000 inhabitants are killed or hurt in the eternal city. I’m assuming that this is an annual rate of carnage, but the site does not say. However, it does specify that in London 0.85 pedestrians are killed or injured per 1000 inhabitants, whereas in Paris, the figure is only 0.4.  Something is not right in Italy.

The rising number of young Italians drinking too much and then driving has led to an increasing number of fatal incidents, and the checks carried out by Italian police, although increasing, as a result of their waking up to the problem, are limited.

More numbers.  The number of alcohol limit tests carried out in 2007 in Italy: One million. In France last year, the number was 8 million checks.

It has to be said that Italians are much more blasé about having a few drinks and then hopping in their cars and zooming off, than, say, English people who have learnt to avoid drinking and driving at just about all costs.  High profile UK government advertising campaigns, severe punishments and sky high car insurance have all contributed towards reducing drink drive cases to a minimum in the UK.  In Italy, the driver education process has yet to begin.

However, it is not just drinking that causes accidents in Italy.  Many Italian drivers seem to be incapable of anticipating possible problems on the road ahead of them.  Or at least this is the impression I get.

Milan Accident
Milan Accident

Feet seem to be glued to the accelerator and there is an uncanny reluctance to apply the brakes. Non-Italians have all heard stories of Italian drivers swerving round pedestrians while they cross the road.  This is one hundred percent true and something I experience almost every day here in Milan.  I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I have nearly been hit while crossing the road.  And I’m not talking about crossing just any old where, I generally cross roads via crossings and at traffic lights.  I’ve mentioned before that the little green man stays green for a few nanoseconds and you virtually have to run across the road.  This is all while drivers are turning in front of you, or driving behind you, as you cross.

For heavens sake NEVER, I repeat, never, ever, stop on an Italian pedestrian crossing.  If you do, you will be run down.  I’d almost bet money on this.

Talking of pedestrian crossings, if you do read the Reuters article, you will hear that the Italian president’s wife was recently run down on a crossing.  This high profile incident seems to have started to wake Italy’s politicians up to the problem.  There have also been a few other nasty incidents in the press recently involving mad motorists wiping out pedestrians. Ever heard of the film ‘Deathrace 2000’? Well, I fear the inspiration for this film came from Italy.  Attempt to drive in Naples and you will know what I am talking about.

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I remember one incident clearly, and it was here in Milan. It scared the hell out of me. I was pushing my son across the road at a crossing in his push chair when some idiot cut right in front of me, narrowly missing both of us.  If I had had a gun, I would have shot at that car.  That’s how angry I was. Don’t these people think about their mothers or their own children?  Obviously not.


Anyway, assuming that you have actually managed to cross the road and, let’s say, arrive in one piece at work, you might feel safe.  Er, not. Would you believe that it is actually safer to fight in Iraq than it is to work in Italy?  No, probably not.  Yet European figures show that over 5,200 people died in work related accidents in Italy from the start of 2003 to October 2006. Whereas in the same period in Iraq, just over 3,500 soldiers perished.  The worrying thing is that the figure concerning deaths in Italy is probably inaccurate.  You see, most of the people who are dying are unskilled, illegal immigrant workers, and you can bet that some never make it onto official records.

Reasons for this appalling situation?  Three, in the eyes of this here blogger. First, Italian taxes and contributions are high, so cheap labour remains attractive.  Then, there is the problem of sacking workers, which encourages the employment of illegal cheap labour.  This is something that has been brought about, partially, by intransigent unions who have refused attempts to make Italian employment legislation more flexible, or rather, flexible enough. Although new employment contracts have rendered employment contracts more flexible, they are not yet flexible enough, as the figures above attest.

And finally, there is the famous Italian disregard for regulations, which means that these illegal labourers are not provided with appropriate safety gear. By way of an example, from what I have noticed, building site workers never seem to bother putting safety helmets on. And this is despite there being official signs stating that helmets and other gear must be worn at all times.

Stepping on Toes

The final route to an untimely death in Italy, stepping on toes, can also be said to be work-related. If, for example, you ‘work’ for certain not so legal organisations and you do the wrong thing. Watch out for people on motorbikes. Then, if you happen to be one of the small but dedicated group of people who is trying to deal with the aforementioned organisations and you get too close (there are, regrettably, too many stories of this), you may get to meet your maker sooner than expected.

Journalists who ‘get too close’, end up pushing up daisies or running chat shows.

And, last but not least, there are those who act as consultants for the government.  Provide certain advice, and you may well become the target of Italy’s best known terrorist organisation – the Red Brigades.

After having painted something of a black picture of this sunny land in the final section of this post, you may be surprised to hear that I do not consider Italy to be a violent place, at least not at street level. The UK seems to be much more dangerous than Italy in terms of spontaneous and mindless violence. And the number of shootings back in Britain that I keep on hearing about, is worrying.

But in terms of driving and working, Italy is far more dangerous than the UK.

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