If you have a U.S. driver’s license it is strongly recommended that you buy an International Driving Permit before leaving for Italy. An IDP is simply a translation of your license into 11 different languages. In the U.S. they’re easy to obtain for a small fee from your local AAA office, no driving tests or exams required. This should be carried in addition to your regular driver’s license. You should also have insurance papers, car documents, and any required equipment. Italian law mandates that all cars are equipped with a warning triangle and a reflective vest or jacket in the event of a breakdown; car rental suppliers provide these items for each rental car.
ZTL is the abbreviation for Zona Traffico Limitato. This is a reduced traffic zone that is only for authorized vehicles. Most larger cities and even some smaller towns will have these areas. If you are caught driving in one of these zones, you will be fined. Cameras are set up to take pictures of license plates.
The Italians are embracing cameras for catching speeders as well. The autovelox is a camera inside a large box. These are used on toll roads, highways, and in some towns. Along the autostrada you may also have your speed recorded by a system called the sistema tutor.
Italy’s toll roads are called the autostrada. Highways that are part of this system will have a A before their number. Signage denoting autostrada highways will be in green. You will get a ticket when you enter, and pay when you exit. Left hand lanes are meant for passing. The speed limit on these toll roads is 130 kilometers per hour, but may be reduced as indicated by signs. If you are using toll roads, have cash ready.
Italian drivers have earned a reputation. With descriptors like aggressive, fast, reckless, and dangerous; it’s not a surprise that you may be apprehensive to share their roads. I suppose the oldest advice of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” may come in handy. Regardless of etiquette, Italian drivers are confident in their skills and expect you to act the same.
Do not expect fellow drivers to slow down and patiently wait for you to acclimate. Tailgating, abrupt lane changes, sudden braking - these are all par for the course. City driving has great potential for stress. Do yourself a favor and rent the smallest car you can as streets may be incredibly narrow. Be aware of the direction of traffic. One way streets are the rule. You must stay alert and attentive to all space around your car; drivers as young as 14 are allowed to use scooters.
Gas stations are plentiful. Depending on the time you may have to use the self-service option. Be sure to choose the correct fuel for the vehicle you are driving.
Parking is a challenge, and parking tickets are a reality in the cities.
Overwhelming advice would be to rent a car if you are going to be driving long distances or in more rural areas of Italy. You may save yourself a lot of stress by using public transit or your pedestrian powers within the cities.