Driving on Italian motorway [Autostrada]: Tips for first-time drivers
Renting a car in Italy and driving on the famed Autostrada for the first time can be a thrilling experience.
It is crucial to understand the rules, signs, and unique features of this highway system to ensure a smooth and safe journey.
This article will help you navigate the Autostrada with confidence, even if it’s your first time behind the wheel in Italy.
Understanding the Autostrada
The Autostrada is Italy’s equivalent to a motorway or freeway. It covers most of the country with a toll system that charges based on the length of the drive.
If you are renting a car in Sicily you will discover that most of the highway is free (except in the north-east of the region).
If you are renting a car in Sardinia, you will find out that there are no Autostrade but Superstrade instead. These are similar to an Hway, with two lanes in each direction, however, there is no toll system.
Known for its high-speed limits and intricate design, the Autostrada is a quick way to traverse the country’s beautiful landscapes.
However, its uniqueness lies in its toll system, varied speed limits, and specific driving rules, which differ from the highway systems in other countries.
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 for just 7 Euros/day, such a great peace of mind.
Rules and Regulations on the Autostrada
The typical driving rules you have in Italy usually apply to Autostrade too. I have listed below the most important ones.
- You can overtake only on the left lane of the Autostrada, never on the right.
- The typical speed limit is 130 kmh, however, this may change because of fog, rain and ice.
- Keep your lights on both during the day and at night
- You all have to wear seatbelts in the car
- You cannot use a mobile without a hand-free system
- Beware of tailgating, as maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front is strictly enforced.
Tolls on the Autostrada
The Autostrada is a toll road, with fees based on the distance travelled.
Upon entering the Autostrada, you’ll receive a ticket from a machine at the toll booth. Keep this ticket safe, as you’ll need to insert it into a machine at your exit point to calculate your toll.
Payment can be made via cash or card. There is also the Telepass system, an automatic toll payment service, which works there for the locals but not so well for travellers because the processing fees from the rental agencies are way too high.
I suggest using the Telepass only if you plan to stay for 2 months or longer
Don’t lose your ticket otherwise, you will be charged the maximum distance (usually from Milan to Naples or even more).
Don’t panic, there are entrance ramps without any machine to get the ticket. For example, if you enter the Autostrada A9 or Autostrada dei Laghi (“Motorway of the Lakes”) in Legnano, you will not get a ticket.
You will pay a fixed price when you reach either Como or Milan (around 2 Euros). You will not pay anything if you exit before that.
Safety Measures, speed limits and service areas
The Autostrada is well-equipped with safety measures. Emergency SOS telephones are situated every 2 km along the highway, and emergency breakdown lanes are present for unexpected stops.
Speed limits and Tutor, an average speed detection system, are designed to maintain safety and control over speeding.
The Autostrada also has dedicated service areas providing fuel, food, and restrooms at regular intervals. Autogril, for pizza, and Eataly, for pasta, are my favourite service areas. You can really eat like in a restaurant.
Some of the service areas sell also local products. I highly suggest buying the local mozzarella when travelling in Campania, absolutely gorgeous.
Remember to use your hazard lights if you’re forced to stop on the Autostrada due to an emergency or breakdown.
Busiest Autostrade and Worst Time to Drive on it
|A1 (Milano-Napoli)||Friday evening, Sunday afternoon|
|A3 (Napoli-Salerno)||Friday evening, Sunday afternoon|
|A4 (Torino-Trieste)||Monday morning, Friday afternoon|
|A14 (Bologna-Taranto)||Friday evening, Sunday afternoon|
|A22 (Brennero-Modena)||Saturday morning, Sunday evening|
The most used motorways in Italy
Here below is a table of the most known and used Autostrade in Italy, that connect Switzerland, France and Austria to most of the major cities in Italy.
Please note that I have added also a rough estimate of the toll, however, the actual cost can vary, based on the exit you take (there are multiple exits for each of these cities)
|From||To||Distance (km)||Estimated Toll Cost (€)|
Case scenarios: travelling from Como (Switzerland border) to Rome using the Autostrada
Setting off on a road trip from Como to Rome on a Monday morning at 7:30am promises a delightful adventure through Italy’s remarkable Autostrada.
The distance is approximately 650 km and the journey time is typically around 7 hours, excluding breaks.
Starting from Como, you’ll take the A9 towards Milan. Given the morning rush hour in this industrial and financial hub, it is likely you’ll encounter some traffic.
Milan has a ring of Autostrade that goes all around the city. This is typically extremely busy during the weekdays between 7:30am and 10am and from 4:30pm to 7pm. Try to avoid approaching Milan (and any other major city in Italy) during this peak time.
At the weekends there is less of a problem. Only on Sundays in summer, exiting the city in the morning or entering in the late afternoon is not advisable for the high traffic.
After Milan, you’ll join the A1, known as ‘Autostrada del Sole’ (Motorway of the Sun), the oldest and longest highway in Italy, running all the way to Rome.
Traffic is usually heavier around large cities and during rush hours, so be prepared for potential slowdowns around Milan and Bologna.
Bologna, approximately halfway to Rome, would make an ideal spot for a lunch break.
There are several ‘Autogrill‘ service stations along the way where you can grab a bite. Autogrill is an Italian-based, global catering service highly popular on the Autostrada for offering a wide range of food options.
For a diversion, consider taking a short detour from the A1 to visit the town of Orvieto in Umbria.
Exit the A1 at Orvieto and leave the car at the Train Station (only a bunch of km from the Hway exit). From there take the short cable car to this stunning medieval town perched on a rock cliff.
The town’s spectacular cathedral, the underground network of Etruscan-era caves and tunnels, and panoramic views are sure to fascinate you.
Allocate at least two hours to enjoy what Orvieto has to offer.
Fuel prices on the Autostrada can be higher than in local towns. So, for cheaper fuel, consider refuelling your car just off the highway. Towns such as Modena on the A1 have petrol stations where you can fill up at a lower rate. There are also a few stations just outside Orvieto.
As you continue your journey on the A1, you will pass through the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria before reaching Lazio, where Rome is located.
Here is a summary of your journey:
|Autostrada||Distance (km)||Expected Travel Time |
|Expected Traffic Level|
Remember to keep a flexible itinerary as unexpected traffic or fascinating roadside attractions might alter your plans.
Navigating Italy’s Autostrada can be an enjoyable part of your Italian adventure when you understand the rules and how the system works.
While the Autostrada can be a high-speed, busy environment, with careful planning, an understanding of the rules, and a few useful tips, you can handle it like a pro, even if it’s your first time.