Driving in Italy – What should YOU know?

In the summer a guest said to me, ‘I wish I had known about driving in Italy, before I came!!’

Admittedly, I felt off my game. As this information is published in our In-house Property Guide, but only available when our guests arrive at the house. So here are a few tips that you need to know before departing for Itay or more specifically Puglia.

I believe that the main consideration you need to take on board is that what is good in your home country, regards driving protocol, may not necessarily work in Italy.

When In Puglia, you’ll need a car to get the most of your trip, which generally means standing in the queue at the airport to retrieve your rental car keys, debate on whether or not to get extra insurance, and walk the long mile to your vehicle. Or consider a transfer to your holiday home and pick up your hire car from there.

Minimal instructions are provided by the rental agencies on how to operate your vehicle, nevermind how to manouvre yourself in maintstream traffic. This can be said of any country however, not just Puglia.

Drive on the RIGHT side of the road.

Keep to the right!


First and foremost, remember which side of the road you need to be – that requires concentration and the help of all who you have the pleasure to be in company with, to assist. So before you set off, get your mindset and cooperation of all in the vehicle. You are driving on the RIGHT hand side of the road.


Your navigator is ‘usually’ your friend.

Secondly, use the navigator. Today we have the good fortune to have at least an objective view as to where we are heading but should it go pear shaped, you can balme it on ‘Tom’. Set up the navigator with the GPS or alternatively a street address before you leave the airport. More of street addresses later however. I know you an enxious to get the holiday started but taking time at the beginning of the journey will save you heartache on approaching your destination. Your navigator will keep you on track for most of the journey, reading maps is not recommended but if you do have written instructions, ask the help of the co-pilot to spot the differences then calmly set off.

From the airport, you are going to be quickly on the major roads, which is at least a good time to adjust to the right hand side. Keep to the right in a dual carriageway or three lane traffic, do not sit in the middle lane as you will be scooped from the right, with a scathing look from fellow motorists.

Unless you are heading north of Bari, you are not going to hit the autostrada, fee paying road. You will most likely be travelling on the SS (Strada Statali) and the SP (Strada Provinciale) roads. They differ in quality and don’t be surpised for the uneveness if not the odd bump or pit arises en route. Bari to Brindisi, has a coastal road referred to as the SS16 or the E55. A major road that is either two or three lanes. Keep to the RIGHT!

Speed limits vary depending on whether or not you are coming up to a junction, but don’t be surprised if you feel you are travelling the correct speed, yet you seem to be in a road race. I am of the opinion that in Italy, you either drive fast or slow. There is no in between and either could get you in trouble with the police.

My first experience of driving on an SP road, did involve the police. I was pulled over when I was doing the correct speed limit. This is when I discovered the legal requirement to use your headlights when not in towns.

When to keep your headlights on?

Therefore, thirdly, keep your headlights on wherever you may be! This way you cannot go wrong. In town it is not required but should you leave town, be sure to have them on.

The nice policeman who pulled me over, did not fine me. He just curteously reminded of a law that I was unaware of but I really should have known, I just assume then that my home country’s road laws applied in Italy.

When flashing your headlights is not a curtesy.

Fourthly, staying with headlights, please do not flash your fellow automobilist wishing to give him the curtesy of the right of way as one would do in the UK for example. Flashing your headlights gives him a warning sign,

Do Not Move, Do Not Pull Out, Stay Exactly Where You Are.

For example, should you be thinking of pulling out at a junction, and there is oncoming traffic, chances are you will be flashed. Do not move into the lane, but stay exactly where you are should you be flashed, the other driver is not giving you permission to enter the traffic, but the contrary.

Another keen example, used very liberally on the motorway, back roads or any road for that matter; anyone coming up behind you at a surprisingly high speed, may flash you. The message is for you to get out of the lane, move over to the RIGHT or just plain, move. Do not imagine that going the correct speed is an excuse not to do anything other than follow that request.

Horn blowing is another way to warn you to keep out of the way, so if your not totally blinded by the lights, you should hopefully hear the horn all the same. 😉

Why you should keep your documents at hand?

Fifthy, keep your documents with you, not just whilst driving. It is really imperative that you keep at least an ID with you and your driving license. The fiscal (Guardia di Finanza) or military police (Carabinieri) set up road checks, usually on the main roads, in town or on the outskirts. In general they are checking your documentation and the vehicle records. The fiscal police however, may check what you are carrying, receipts for goods purchased, or just enquiring as to where you are heading.

Accidents happen.

In case of an accident, whether you are responsible or the victim, by law must be documented and mandatory to inform your insurer within three days. If it is a serious accident, the police should be called and your vehicle not moved. In a minor accident, to avoid causing a road block, you can move the car but it is adviseable to take photos first.

Communicating in another language maybe difficult so here is a link to the module ‘Friendly accident report form’, used to report an accident, here in English. https://cartraveldocs.com/downloads/European-Accident-Statement.pdf The same website provides documents in other languages.

Parking and Traffic Fines – Blue/White or No Lines?

Small Italian towns have dedicated car parking areas, so follow the blue P, pay for the parking and you’ll be fine. If you need to get closer to town, blue lines are paid parking, white lines generally not and no lines could mean a traffic violation or an actual parking spot. If in doubt ask a local merchant. There are also signs indicating when parking is payable or not on the blue lines, please abide, they are strictly policed, especially during the height of summer when there are more vehicles around.

Things to consider:

  • the locals need to park close to home, so if you can, use the parking areas provided;
  • disabled drivers need to display their badges clearly;
  • ensure you display the parking ticket clearly, and add more coins if necessary;
  • pay for any fines as soon as you get them, you’ll get discounted for early and prompt payment – two prices are shown on tickets – pay at the police municipality in the town where you received the fine;
  • even if the locals double park, don’t do it!
  • even if the locals park in non-parking zones, don’t do it!
  • don’t park on the curbs nor at intersections.

Essentially, park and walk if at all possible.

Luggage Drop-Off vs. Keeping belongings in the car?

Hopefully, if you arrive on an early flight, your friendly House Manager/House Owner will allow you an early check-in if not a luggage drop off. Leaving your belongings in the rental car and going off to a restaurant or the beach is not recommended. Crime happens everywhere in the world, so no need to tempt anyone. I have heard some very unpleasant stories, so please resist the temptation to just put your feet in the big blue Adriatic Sea. Head straight to your accommodation and offload your baggage!

Drinking and Driving is a NO NO.

Enough said. Taxis are available or find yourself a designated non-drinking driver. For those of you who enjoy a drink with dinner, I would definately suggest you use an in-house Chef. Put up your feet and relax, knowing you do not have to risk being pulled over. Italian Police can be very unforgiving.

Seat Belt is a Yes Yes.

‘Almost one third of car users in Italy, or 28.8 percent, don’t use seatbelts when driving or riding as passengers in cars, according to new figures published in the report User Driving Styles Observatory Research (Ricerca Osservatorio Stili di Guida Utenti), produced by engineering and architecture firm Studio Righetti.’- from The Local Italy

Similarly, over 50% of Italians do not use indicators!

12% use mobile phones whilst driving!

Living in Italy, this does not surprise me, but be warned, be vigilant and be aware that billions of euros are being invested to reduce those percentages, with changes to the Highway Code with reforms.