15 Feb,2017 By Jagabond
I moved to Italy in early November, and struggled through a mundane first month with no driving options to go anywhere. Then, in mid-December, my car arrived, and I quickly did the paperwork to get my Italian license plates. I gazed upon the beauty of my well-aged Toyota and realized…I’m now an Italian driver.
Then anxiety started building as I realized…I’m now an Italian driver, and driving in Italy is crazy! This is what everyone says, and it’s not all urban legend. I’m a passive driver, and have suffered driving anxiety over the years. For a period of time while living in California, I couldn’t drive over 60 miles per hour, and often had to exit freeways and take the back way to work. Clearly, driving is not my favorite thing. Although worried about driving in Italy, I’ve so far found things to be sometimes as bad as advertised, and other times exaggerated. I express my initial thoughts here, having driven here for nearly six weeks.
1. It’s not just the fast drivers, but also the slow drivers. No middle ground exists here – the left lane is for the crazy speedsters, and the right is for the sleepy plodders. It’s tempting to stay in the left lane, especially because of merging traffic, which never wants to stop. I nearly rear ended a truck a few weeks back but luckily was able to duck into the passing lane before I had a potential disaster.
2. Because of the fast vs. slow drivers, I’ve never changed lanes more in my life. You get into the passing lane to speed up, then an even faster driver gets behind you and starts flashing their lights furiously in an attempt to get you to move over. You do, only to find yourself behind someone going half the speed limit. So then you pass them, and the cycle repeats.
3. I live in a village outside Naples, in the Avellino province. The streets are narrow to the point that realistically only one car can pass. You find yourself jockeying for position, and trying to determine who needs to move over to let the other one go. Although annoying, this is probably making me a better driver.
4. Parking is typically creative, as people make up their own spots. This would be okay if you have a small car, like the Ford Fiesta I had in Belgium. However, with my Toyota, the back always seems to be jutting out into the driving lane, just enough to make me nervous.
5. I remember early on in life, driving in Pittsburgh, and learning about hydroplaning. I never realized how bad that could be until driving in Naples. Poorly maintained streets work together with oils and other sludge left on the road to encourage slippage, which makes driving to work in the rain particularly adventurous.
6. As I alluded to previously, some Italian drivers get angry when you aren’t going fast enough in the passing lane and they start flashing their headlights. For this minor road rage, I counter with my own, where I put my turn signal on as if I’m going back into the right lane…but I never do. After about the third time of this, the drivers behind me get upset and just leave their high beams on trying to get me to move.
7. If I was ever mayor of a town, I would ban honking. Italian drivers do this whenever they are annoyed, especially at toll road entrances as traffic backs up. I can somewhat empathize as I don’t know what’s so difficult about paying a toll, but some cars take forever as if they are counting out change so they don’t have to break a twenty.
8. On my way to Rome, the cops pulled me over in a small town I was staying in. They checked my papers, and asked me a few questions. When I asked them why they pulled me over, they just told me to move along. I’m not sure if this is a thing here, but whatever.
9. Just one week ago, I was a mile from the exit to work when a car collided with a truck. This literally shut the freeway down for over two hours as they cleared the remnants of the vehicles and devised a plan to get traffic moving again. Drivers, including myself, turned off their engines and hung around outside waiting for the situation to be resolved. Accident cleanup definitely moves more quickly in California.
10. Gasoline is crazy expensive here, approximately $5.90 per gallon. The coupons I buy on base cut that down to $3.30, but those coupons only work at select stations. It appears as if train and bus options might be better and more cost efficient for traveling within Italy.
11. The bottom line of driving here is that no one wants to hit you, as that would also jack up their car. It’s very flexible driving here, and you can even shove your car nose into a high traffic situation as if it was expected. There’s no malice to the driving, it’s just what they know.
“The first rule of Italian driving, what’s behind me is not important.” – Raul Julia