Driving In Italy: Your Complete Guide

6th June, 2023, in Travel Advice & Guides

Italy is one of the most popular countries in the world for tourists to visit each year. Data indicates that it is in fact the 5th most visited country in the world for tourist arrivals!

With a huge array of culture, history, food, sport, and romance on hand for anybody that visits, it is a destination that ticks boxes for all.

Stunning cities and quaint picturesque villages allow you to immerse yourself in the way of life easily and a wide range of attractions help you to fulfil your sightseeing dreams.

Italy isn’t a huge country, but it is one that offers much, and to see it all would be best in a hire car. That way you can easily get from Reggio Emilia to Rome, Brescia to Brindisi and Savona to Sicily whilst taking in the wide range of cultural experiences each part of the Peninsula can bring.

Passions run high in Italy, none more so than on the roads. Crowds of traffic are not uncommon, and this can mean you may need to be at your best when navigating your way around. Have no fear though, our guide will show you all you need to know to ensure that your time on the road in Italy is enjoyable and ultimately safe.

Driving to Italy from UK

If you are starting your road trip to Italy in the UK you will want to ensure a few key things are checked and planned, Namely, your route, your car and your travel documents. Once all those are in hand you should be good to go.

The RAC advise you to use an acronym of FORCES for your car check:

F – Fuel

O – Oil

R – Rubber

C – Coolant

E – Electrics

S – Screen Wash

We would advise you to do this a few days before you set off and certainly not the night before as if you discover a problem, it could be too late!

Should you be using a hire car, now would also be a good time to check out the car hire excess insurance options available to you. This way should there be an accident or a problem, at least you will be covered from the costly excess fees.

With your car good to go and all the insurance secured, you could now start planning a route.

There are a few options available to you when driving to Italy from the UK and much depends on what kind of stop-offs you may want to enjoy on the way.

Most people head into France via the channel tunnel or a car ferry and then drive through Europe’s largest country onto Italy. This can take just over 12 hours but does allow you some incredible opportunities for a rest stop and quick photo. It is possible to fit in Dijon, Lyon and Geneva all before reaching Italy!

Alternatively, a route taking you via Paris can be desirable, Just add an extra hour or so to the journey time.

Other routes could see you disembark in Belgium, cruise through Luxembourg and then cross Switzerland before getting into Italy. This is a journey that takes over 13hrs so may be worth factoring in the time when planning it. Another option and one popular with people wanting to get a little more from their trip is to enter Belgium, drive into Holland, drop into Germany, head down to Switzerland and then into Italy.

Whichever option you pick. Pack well, plan well and drive safe! Rules in each country can vary.

What to pack when driving to Italy from the UK

So now your car is ready, your insurance is set up and your route is planned, all that’s left is the packing, right?

Well, it’s worth bearing in mind that rules in Italy require you to have certain items packed in your car. Without them, you could find yourself in all sorts of trouble, especially if an accident occurs.

What do I need to drive in Italy?

Packed within your car you will need certain safety items. Without them, the police can issue on-the-spot fines. Ensure you have the following at all times in your car, if it is a rental car, find out whether your provider issues them:

  • Hi-Vis jackets
  • Warning triangles
  • Headlamp beam deflectors

It should also be added that if riding mopeds or motorbikes, crash helmets are mandatory in Italy.

The carrying of the hi-vis jacket is not a mandatory requirement, but should you be walking on the road or hard shoulder without one, you will likely be fined. Furthermore, with your car entering Italy from the UK, you will need to ensure that a UK sticker is shown on your car and NOT a GB one. Since late 2021, the rules have changed, and a wrong sticker could see you in trouble.

If though, you have hired a car in Italy itself, you will not need the sicker. Along with safety equipment, you will also need to ensure that certain documents are always with you when behind the wheel.

Driving in Italy with a UK licence

A full valid UK driving licence is accepted in Italy but should you not hold a photographic version of a UK driver’s licence, an International Drivers Permit (IDP) will be needed. It should also be noted that when driving a rental car in Italy, you will need both your driver’s licence and an IDP although this can vary from place to place so check with your rental agent before proceeding. You may also be familiar with the insurance green card, but this is no longer needed for taking vehicles to Italy.

You will also need to always carry your passport on you as well as any documents either about your ownership of the car or the rental of it. Furthermore, proof of insurance will be necessary.

What side of the road do they drive on in Italy?

So, at this stage, the car is prepped, the route planned, the insurance paid for, and the documents collated, now it gets down to understanding driving in Italy and what it involves.

In Italy, you will drive on the right and overtake on the left. The opposite of what we do in the UK.

It should be noted that overtaking is strictly forbidden when you approach level crossings as well as at bends or when you are on the brow of a hill. If the weather impairs visibility too, overtaking will see you penalized. You will also find yourself foul of the law should you attempt to overtake when a driver is slowing to allow pedestrians to use a crossing. A little further down the page, we will dive into the other road rules in Italy.

Roads in Italy

There is so much to see in Italy, much of it off the beaten track and as a result you will find yourself encountering a variety of different roads across the country. In the section below, we will show you the speed limits that you must abide by. In this part, we will dive into the road types so you have an idea of exactly what to expect as you venture from place to place.

Autostrada- The equivalent of our motorways, they are labelled with an A followed by a number. These roads all operate tolls where you collect a ticket at your start point and then pay at your exit point.

Strada Extraurbana Principale- A dial carriageway that connects major towns. No toll is present on these roads and at least two lanes for each direction.

Strada Extraurbana Secondaria-A single carriageway.

Strada Urbana di Scorrimento- A dual carriageway in urban areas where a sidewalk is present.

Strada Urbana- A single lane with a sidewalk in urban areas.

In addition to these common road types, you may also find yourself driving on roads known as Strada Bianche. These are common in rural areas and are often not paved. You will also see lettered abbreviations on some roads. Such as SP or SR. These will indicate whether the roads are regional or provincial.

What is the speed limit in Italy?

Perhaps one thing that is almost as important as getting the side of the road correct is the speed with which you can drive on them. Unlike in the UK, speed limits will be illustrated on signs in Km/ph rather than M/ph.

Speed limit signs in Italy will look just like the ones you are accustomed to in the UK. A red circle, a white background and black numbers indicate the maximum speed on a road whereas a blue circle with white numbers will illustrate the minimum speed limit for the road.

If a visual of snow and rain is also displayed on the sign, this indicates the maximum speed when this type of weather is present.

Current speed limits in Italy are as follows:

Motorway (Autostrada)

(Green sign with two white lanes) – 130km/ph (legal provisions do allow for 150km/ph in some cases) and 110km/ph in rain or snow.

Main extra urban road (Strada extraurbana Principale)

(Blue sign with two white lanes) – 110Km/ph but 90Km/h when in rain or snow

Secondary extra-urban road (Strada extraurbana secondaria)

(Rectangular sign with red diagonal stripe. This road type can also be demonstrated with the addition of a blue square with a white car to the rectangular sign, or an additional rectangle indicating two lanes – 90Km/ph.

Urban Highway (Strada urbana di scorrimento)

(black rectangle with townscape plus additional black rectangle indicating two lanes)

In some areas, you may also see a sign stating “Zona 30.” These areas have strict 30 km/ph speed limits – 70Km/ph.

Urban road (Strada urbana)

Black rectangle with townscape, or black rectangle with townscape plus blue square with a white car – 50Km/ph.

Driving in Italy rules

Aside from driving on the correct side of the road (the right, in case you missed it earlier) and abiding by the speed limits set, there are a few other rules for driving in Italy that you must follow.

Overtaking in Italy

As a quick recap, you are forbidden from overtaking when on or approaching a level crossing, when on a bend, when on the brow of a hill, at intersections, or when visibility is limited. You should also refrain from overtaking a vehicle that has slowed for pedestrians to use a crossing.

Who has priority on roads in Italy?

Pedestrians at crossings will always have priority but in terms of other road users, a general rule is that priority must always be given to vehicles coming from the right or on rails unless otherwise indicated.

Emergency vehicles always have priority over other road users.

If you are enjoying the idyllic mountain views that Italy offers, you may sometimes find the roads a little narrow. If two vehicles cannot pass each other. The descending vehicle must reverse to a suitable passing point.

Do you have to wear seatbelts in Italy?

Seatbelts must be worn in Italy in all vehicles that have them. This is both for drivers and passengers. Fines can range from €80 up to €300. A cost worth avoiding by simply complying.

Using the horn in Italy

Horns are only to be used in moderation unless there is an emergency. In more rural areas, horn use is seen as compulsory and used at all times if carrying an injured person or somebody seriously ill.

Travelling with children in a car in Italy

If you have used a car from the UK to enter Italy any children travelling in it must be safely seated according to the rules of the UK. Likewise, if using a car from France, Italy or anywhere else in Europe, the rules for how you secure children in your vehicle in Italy must match those of the origin country.

Drink driving laws in Italy

Laws over alcohol consumption and driving in Italy are strict and compared to England are very different, In Italy the limit is 0.05% blood alcohol content compared to 0.08% in England. A fine can be as high as €6000.

Look out for ZTL zones

A ZTL zone, known as a Zone a Traffico Limitato is an area deployed in several major cities where restrictions are in place for the movement of non-resident motorists. Monitored by the camera, a venture into one of these areas can hit you with a fine of around €70. You can register your car with the local police but that could eat into the time you have there. Instead, park in a different area and use public transport if need be.

Parking in Italy

Rules over parking your car in Italy are strict and you must adhere to them. Do not park on bends, in cycle lanes, on the brow of a hill or at an intersection. You must also make sure that when you do park, you are on the right side of the road, unless on a one-way street.

There is a chance you have ventured into Rome and parking there has further rules to follow. On working days between 7am-8pm, you will not be allowed to park in the historic centre unless you hold a resident permit.

Parking against the rules can see you clamped, or the vehicle taken away. This can then result in costly fees with a fine to cover the cost of the offence and then the fees to cover the towing and impounding costs!

There are a host of parking places you can take advantage of though. A blue sign will show you that parking is restricted and will require paying for but occasionally these same areas can be free. The signage will indicate these periods, but it is commonly Sundays and selected hours of each day.

It should also be noted that EU-issued disabled permits should be accepted by Italian authorities as valid.

Common driving penalties in Italy

Fines in Italy can be issued for a variety of offences and the range can be quite staggering. A small speeding offence can see you facing a €40 fine whereas a drink or drug offence could see you hit with a €6000 penalty. These can get even worse, serious speeding offences can see the fine increased by 30% if committed between 10pm and 7am. When you consider the max speeding fine is over €4000, there could be an extra €1200 added to your penalty!

This isn’t always the end of the troubles though. Depending on the severity of the offence, vehicles can be confiscated, licenses can be withdrawn, or a prison sentence could be handed down.

On-the-spot fines are common too. In these cases, the authorities can claim 25% of the total fine value there and then. If payment is made within 5 days a reduction of up to 30% may be applied.

Driving a rental car in Italy

In most cases, you are likely to be driving through Italy in a rental car and with this there are some additional rules to follow that may not apply if bringing your own car.

  • You must be at least 21 to hire a car in Italy
  • You may need to have held your license for a minimum amount of time to hire a car. Speak with the rental agents as policies may vary.
  • You will need 2 forms of ID, one of which must be your UK driver’s licence.

If a trip to Italy is in the offing, contact Direct Car Hire Excess, our expert team are fully knowledgeable on all things car insurance and can help you secure the best possible European excess car hire insurance. With a host of policy types available to cover your exact needs, contact us today and see how we can help you avoid costly excess fees. Better still, get a free excess insurance quote now!

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