Driving in Italy as a Tourist – Unique Differences and IDP
Venturing into the thrill of driving in Italy as a tourist can be a transformative experience.
Renting a car in Italy allows you to chart your own journey through its captivating landscapes, from sun-soaked coasts dotted with charming villages to rural roads winding through verdant vineyards.
Yet, the road rules and driving etiquette in Italy are distinctively unique, and as such, foreign drivers may encounter unexpected challenges.
In this guide, I highlight the major and unique differences in driving in Italy compared to any other country, including Australia, UK and Canada.
For USA citizens, I have created another detailed guide to driving in Italy as an American.
But let’s dive into it.
Driving in Italy as a tourist – Familiarize with these traffic rules
In our journey exploring the ins and outs of driving in Italy as a tourist, one crucial aspect to grasp is the unique traffic rules that may differ from those in your home country.
Understanding these differences is essential for a safe, stress-free, and lawful driving experience.
The following table aims to highlight 18 significant differences between Italian traffic regulations and those generally found in other countries.
It’s a unique roadmap to help you navigate the Italian roads with the assurance of a well-informed driver.
TIP: Check out these 33 tips if you are driving in Italy for the first time.
|No.||Traffic Rules in Italy||Rules in Other Countries (General)|
|1||Roundabouts: Vehicles within the roundabout have priority over those entering.||In a few countries, vehicles entering have priority.|
|2||Right of Way: Vehicles coming from the right at intersections have the right of way unless otherwise indicated.||In a few countries, the first vehicle to stop has the right of way.|
|3||Overtaking: Overtaking is mainly done on the left.||In countries with left-hand traffic, overtaking is done on the right. Sometimes you can overtake in both the left or right lane in Hway (not possible in Italy)|
|4||Seat belts: Compulsory for all occupants of the vehicle.||Some countries only require the driver and front passenger to wear seat belts.|
|5||BAC Limit: Strict 0.05% limit. Zero tolerance for professional drivers and drivers with less than 3 years of license.||Many countries have higher BAC limits, and the rules for new/professional drivers vary widely.|
|6||Urban Speed Limit: Typically 50km/h (31mph).||Speed limits in urban areas vary.|
|7||Limited Traffic Zones (ZTLs): Many city centres restrict access at certain times.||Very few countries have similar restricted zones.|
|8||Reflective Vests: Must be worn if you exit your vehicle due to breakdowns on highways or outside urban areas.||Not mandatory in most countries.|
|9||Child Seats: Children under 36 kg or 150 cm must use an appropriate child restraint (check below a section for child seats).||Regulations about child seats can differ, with many countries having lower height/weight thresholds.|
|10||Fines: On-the-spot fines can be issued for many traffic violations.||In many countries, fines are mailed to the driver or car owner.|
|11||Helmets: Compulsory for all motorcycle and moped riders.||Not always mandatory, particularly for moped riders, in some countries.|
|12||Headlights: Mandatory to keep headlights on outside built-up areas during the day.||In many countries, daytime headlights are not required.|
|13||Mobile Phones: Only hands-free systems are allowed while driving.||Some countries allow handheld mobile use.|
|14||Snow Chains/ Winter Tyres: Mandatory in certain areas during winter.||Not always mandatory in other countries, even with snowy conditions.|
|15||Breakdown Warning Device: You must carry a warning triangle in case of breakdowns.||Not required in many countries.|
|16||Tolls: Many motorways (Autostrade) require tolls.||In many countries, major highways and motorways are toll-free.|
|17||Bus Lanes: Not allowed for other vehicles unless indicated otherwise.||In some countries, cars can use bus lanes during off-peak hours.|
|18||Vehicle Documentation: Car registration and insurance documents must always be carried in the vehicle.||Many countries don’t require these documents to be present in the vehicle at all times.|
Driving in Italy as a tourist with kids
Exercise the same caution that you use in your own country.
I cannot find much of a difference except the use of child seats which may be different to where you come from
For example, in Australia (where I live) we do not need child seats once the kid is 8 years old. This rule is different in Italy. You can find the full table below, which is the same for all of Europe.
|Group||Weight Range||Height Range (approx.)||Car Seat Type|
|0||Up to 10 kg (22 lbs)||Birth to 1.5 years||Rear-facing infant carrier|
|0+||Up to 13 kg (29 lbs)||Birth to 2.5 years||Rear-facing infant carrier|
|1||9-18 kg (20-40 lbs)||1.5 to 4 years||Forward or rear-facing child seat with a harness|
|2||15-25 kg (33-55 lbs)||4 to 6 years||High-backed booster seat with a seatbelt|
|3||22-36 kg (48-79 lbs)||6 to 12 years||High-backed booster seat or a booster cushion with a seatbelt|
International Driving Permit (IDP) as a tourist
I have talked extensively about the need for an International Driving Permit for Italy.
In short, you do not need an IDP if you have an EU or UK license, otherwise, the IDP is mandatory.
Remember. Always carry your Driving License together with the IDP when driving. You will need both if stopped for a check, or you may be fined.
Here below I have organised a summary of the step-by-step process for Australians and Canadians that I extracted from my Essential Guide to the International Driving Permit for Italy.
|Step||Step description – Valid for AUSTRALIA|
|1. Go Online||Visit the AAA website to start the online IDP application process|
|2. Prepare Your Details||Collect and input all necessary details: name, date of birth, and country of birth. Ensure your name matches the one on your driver’s license|
|3. Provide Contact Information||Enter your email and contact number, including the appropriate country code (61 for Australia)|
|4. Upload a Recent Photo||Prepare a recent passport-style photo against a plain white background. The photo should be clear, high-quality, without glasses, and hair should not cover your face. Upload the photo in jpg, jpeg, or png format, with a file size under 5MB. I usually do my photos at the Post Office and I never had a problem|
|5. Provide License Details||Upload a clear, readable scan or photo of the front and back of your current Australian driver’s license|
|6. Fill in License Information||Enter your licence number, licence class, whether you wear glasses while driving, the expiry date of your license, and the state of issue. Learners or holders of restricted licenses cannot apply for an IDP|
|7. Address Details||Input your address as it appears on your licence. If it’s incorrect or not appearing, you can enter it manually|
|8. Choose Delivery Method||Choose whether your IDP should be delivered domestically or to an international address. The IDP is dispatched within 3 business days for metropolitan areas.|
|9. Proceed to Payment||Review your application summary and proceed to payment. The cost is AUD 42 + postage|
|10. Delivery||Receive your IDP within the specified delivery time.|
|Step||Step description – Valid for CANADA|
|1. Identify your CAA Club||Find your respective CAA club based on your location in Canada.|
|2. Download the Application Form||Visit your club’s website and download the IDP application form|
|3. Fill in the Application Form||Fill in all required information correctly in the application form|
|4. Return the Application Form||Submit the completed application form (hard copy) to your local CAA Club|
|5. Make the Payment||Pay the application fee ($30 CAD plus shipping). Prices might vary depending on your CAA Club. Payment can often be made by credit card|
|6. Wait for Processing||Your application is processed typically within 2 business days plus delivery time. It’s also possible to get it processed on the spot at the Club|
|7. Receive the IDP||Your IDP will be sent to you by mail or courier once the processing is done|
|8. Specific Instructions for Defense Personnel||Members of the Department of National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces should use a specific application form available on the website|
Car Rental in Italy
Renting a car in Italy can provide tourists with the flexibility and autonomy to truly enjoy their journey.
As you prepare to reserve your vehicle, think about your preferences, such as automatic or manual transmission, and gauge your comfort level with each.
Also, don’t forget about insurance for your rented car in Italy. Several credit card companies worldwide offer rental car insurance as a benefit to their customers. Therefore, review your card agreement carefully before opting for additional insurance from the rental company.
I always rent my car in Italy with Full Coverage (No Excess) Insurance. Scratching or denting the car is way too easy in the narrow Italian streets and even narrower parking spots.
A noteworthy challenge when driving in Italy is the Zona a Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or Limited Traffic Zones. These zones are restricted areas in numerous Italian cities, usually in historic centres, where driving is prohibited.
I usually rent my cars on the DiscoverCars website, a rental aggregator that compares the prices of local and global operators providing the best deal around, with the possibility to add Full Insurance (No Excess) for just 7 Euros/day, such a great peace of mind.
Driving Etiquette in Italy
The driving etiquette in Italy can be quite unique, starting with the often use of the hands for communication from within the car.
In the table below I have summarized some of the most remarkable ones.
|Italy||Most Other Countries|
|1. Flashing headlights is a signal to assert the right of way, not yield it||1. Flashing headlights typically signal to yield the right of way|
|2. Italians often drive close to the car in front, a practice known as tailgating||2. In most countries, tailgating is considered dangerous and is generally avoided|
|3. Use of car horn is quite liberal in cities||3. Liberal use of car horn may be considered rude in many countries|
|4. Lane discipline is less rigid, particularly on multi-lane roads||4. Lane discipline is typically strictly observed|
|5. Right of way at intersections can be ambiguous||5. Right of way is typically clearly defined by road markings and signs|
|7. Drivers often make hand gestures to communicate||7. Use of hand gestures is less common|
|8. On highways, slower traffic stays to the right||8. This rule varies depending on the country|
|9. Scooters and motorcycles often weave through traffic||10. This behaviour is generally considered dangerous in other countries and punished with expensive fines.|
|10. Bicycles and pedestrians often share the road with cars||12. In many countries, bicycles have separate lanes|
|11. It’s common to find uncontrolled intersections, where drivers must navigate without traffic signals||20. Uncontrolled intersections are less common in other countries|
Navigating Italian Roads and Highways
I have rented and driven a car in many countries, including some unique places like Thailand, right on the border of Cambodia, or beautiful Costa Rica and of course Australia, USA and I could keep going.
I must say that the Italian road landscape is absolutely unique, especially when you leave the Autostrada (motorway) for the regional and provincial roads.
I have also written an extensive guide about driving on Italian motorways, with plenty of information on tolls, speed limits, etc
Here below is a table with some of the unique features of the Italian roads (please, add in the comment section any unique feature from your country 🙂 ).
|Italy||Most Other Countries|
|1. Use of Autostrada, or toll roads, is common||1. Many countries have fewer toll roads|
|2. Many highways are narrower than those in other countries||2. Highways tend to be wider|
|3. Presence of numerous tunnels in mountainous areas||3. Tunnels may be less common|
|4. Speed limit on Autostrada can be up to 130 km/h||4. Highway speed limits vary widely|
|5. Roads in rural and historic areas can be particularly narrow and winding||5. Rural roads vary in width and design|
|6. Italian signage uses international symbols, but many signs are exclusively in Italian||6. Road signs are often translated into English or use universal symbols|
|7. Many Italian cities have Zona a Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or Limited Traffic Zones||7. Restricted traffic zones are less common|
|8. A “Tutor” is installed on the Autostrade to collect the average speed of cars between two far apart points (km apart). Fines are applied if this is over the speed limit.||8. No countries implement this system (please comment if you know of any)|
|9. Use of electronic toll collection system, Telepass, is widespread||9. Toll collection systems vary widely|
|10. There are fewer road markings compared to some other countries||12. Other countries may have more extensive road markings|
|11. Service areas, or ‘Aree di Servizio’, on Autostrada offer a variety of facilities||16. Highway service area facilities vary|
Parking in Italy
Parking in Italy can be very easy in the countryside and small towns but quite challenging in the cities, especially the major tourist centres.
I personally highly suggest parking the car outside the main cities and taking public transportation to the Historic Centre, a better no-worries experience.
Also, in this case, I have organised an extensive guide to parking in Italy, with a few great tips and parking areas to leave your car once approaching the biggest cities.
Here is a quick table with a few differences that you will probably notice between Italy and your country.
|1. Blue lines indicate paid parking spots||1. Color coding of parking spots may vary|
|2. White lines often indicate free parking spots||2. Free parking areas may not be color-coded|
|3. Yellow lines usually indicate parking for specific individuals or purposes||3. Specific parking zones are designated differently|
|4. The ‘Disco Orario’ or Parking Disc system is often used for limited-time parking||4. Use of Parking Disc system may not be common|
|5. Parking machines in paid zones dispense tickets for dashboard display||5. Variety of parking payment methods|
|6. ‘Zona a Traffico Limitato’ or ZTL areas in city centres restrict parking||6. Restricted parking zones vary|
|7. Double parking is common, especially in large cities, although illegal||7. Double parking may not be as prevalent|
|8. Use of multi-story ‘Autorimessa’ parking garages is common in city centres||8. Variety of parking facilities|
|9. Residential zones may require a permit to park||9. Residential parking rules may vary|
|10. Cars should be parked in the direction of traffic but nobody follows this rule||10. Parking direction rules vary|
|11. Parking spaces are often smaller, especially in historic areas||13. Parking space size varies|
|12. ‘Parcheggio’ signs indicate public parking areas||14. Public parking signage varies|
|13. ‘No Parking’ signs often show a red or black circle on a blue background||15. ‘No Parking’ signs vary|
|14. Night parking restrictions may apply in some areas||16. Night parking rules may vary|
|15. Parallel parking is common due to narrow streets||17. Parallel parking prevalence varies|
|16. Some city zones use ‘Pay and Display’ parking system. You can pay at the ticket stations or at the newsstands.||18. ‘Pay and Display’ usage varies|
|17. Disabled parking spots are marked with a wheelchair symbol||19. Disabled parking spots marking vary|
|18. Parking in designated spaces for car sharing is prohibited||20. Car-sharing parking rules vary|