Posted by: debrakolkka | July 30, 2010

To drive or not to drive

One of the most often asked questions by friends going to Italy from Australia is whether it is better to hire a car and drive, or to use public transport.   I reply that it depends on the level of confidence.  Most people think the biggest issue is driving on the opposite side of the road.  I don’t believe this is the main problem.   Narrow, unfamiliar roads, heavy traffic, packs of cyclists, strange road signs and crazy drivers are the real dangers.

I think that Italian drivers are incredibly skillful.  They are amazing in the way they can manoeuver their cars on some  treacherous roads, and I swear they can levitate their cars sideways into carparks that are far too small.  But they drive too fast and take far too many risks, and this is reflected in the high road toll.

People who will wait patiently for ages in a queue to buy a train ticket ( this drives me batty) turn into Fangio once they get behind a wheel and have to pass everything in sight, and seem to disregard the most basic road rules.

There are rules, I know, I have read the book from cover to cover while studying for my Italian licence, but they appear to be forgotten by most people as soon as they pass the test.  It would help if the police enforced the rules instead of taking the easy option of just handing out parking fines.

The public transport system in Italy is very good.  From our village, Bagni di Lucca, we have an excellent bus service to Lucca, where there are buses and trains to almost wherever you want to go.  Once you learn how to decipher the timetables, the buses and trains are easy to use and quite reasonably priced.  Look at Italy Travel in the links (0n the right side of the blog) for more information about train travel in Italy.

Having a car enables you to go get to places that would require a fair bit of wrangling to get to by public transport.   You will definitely see more if you drive, especially some of the remote towns and villages, and driving through the gorgeous countryside can be truly delightful.  So you need to decide whether you are confident enough to tackle driving or sacrifice seeing some of the more out of the way places and use public transport.

a very cute green car

When there is no danger involved it can be very amusing to watch Italians in their cars.  This lovely little green car was brought to a screeching halt with little thought about correct parking, the driver and his companion leapt out and went on their way leaving an admiring crowd, including me.  I do love Italy!


  1. I knew it – looking cute, does grease the wheels of life!

  2. I prefer an automatic too but hubby likes the control with a manual. I wonder if this is why they love their cars so much! 🙂

  3. I think that Australians like to be independent and we do too, choosing to drive if possible. It’s always an adventure, and I notice that T is often in the front row of 5 cars in a 2 lane road, ready to take off with the rest of them! Hair raising. I also remember a taxi driver drove through a red light once to a shady tree waiting for the lights to go green. We were horrified. Funny in hindsight. I could go on—–

  4. Wow! I stumbled across your blog and just love your adventure. Your living my dream (no, that’s not true, its a very real goal 🙂
    Looking forward to reading your older posts & look forward to the next.

    • Hi Anna,
      Thank you for your comments. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

  5. I never get used to how the Italians drive and I am always outraged when someone overtakes me where it’s clearly impossible and very risky. Whenever I have someone behind me who holds their distance, I always think “Hm… Must be a foreigner.”

  6. While driving home on a narrow, winding road with double white lines and a “No Overtaking” sign, a car in front of me overtook the car overtaking another car. I am constantly astonished by what I see in Italy.

  7. Hi. My wife and I were in Italy in April-May this year. We used public transport and hired a car for a week from Firenze and returned it in Roma. It was a diesel automatic and believe me an auto is essential if you are not used to LHD. It is bad enough having all the car on the “wrong” side of you, (the driver) without having to remember to change gear with your right hand. We drive a Golf here so the indicators and wipers are in the same place on the steering column in the LHD car. There is a lot to think about but you soon get used to it.

    The other thing that I found essential was a GPS. You can rent them with the car at a cost of 10 euros per day. We didn’t. Big mistake. We bought one 3 hours after picking up the car, having got lost for the 99th time. We found out that the loaded map was old and we could not use the free update offer as we had no access to a computer or the net. We ran out of time trying to get to Bagni de Lucca using the map hence the GPS. The GPS map had old road junctions since replaced by roundabouts and even in one case a flyover, but it was a great improvement over the Michelin Guide. Finding car parks in places like Arezzo or the hotel we had booked in Perugia was was a doddle.

    The biggest problem I had was getting onto the Autostrada which are toll roads. Firstly the language and getting onto the sliproad going in the right direction. (All roads seem to lead to Firenze. I lost count of the number of times I found it in front of me and had to get off to go the other way). Secondly, curving around the sliproad with traffic behind us and getting into the “bigletti” lane. Twice I had to back up and drive across 6 lanes to get into the right one with cars coming at me! It should be simple but I found it very confusing at times.

    The Italian drivers can be very inpatient making a second lane beside me when the white lines say otherwise, but I found them very forgiving. They frequently don’t signal lane changes but they stay in the slow lane until overtaking then get back in to clear the fast lane. Trucks likewise. Queensland drivers could learn a few lessons here. Other main roads are fine but finding a parking space in small villages off the beaten track can be difficult, especially on a Sunday. On Sunday 2nd May after a dry spell it rained and we came across the results of 3 single vehicle crashes and one shunt, all in the space of ten kms. They were the only accidents we saw in 5 weeks. Odd.

    I will save “Trains” for another time.

    • Hi Colin,
      It sounds as though you had an interesting time driving in Italy. I can be terrifying, but it does get better with time. We also found the Autostrada entrances difficult at first and a GPS does make things easier, but there is sometimes a problem with new roads. You have to have your wits about you at all times.

  8. […] here for another story about driving in Italy. It also involves a green […]

  9. Just curious what you do with your car when you are not in italy…is it parked in a garage, storage or left on the street? I am interested in buying something, but we wander if we will need a car and can’t figure out what we would do with it if we are not around? We are Americans living in Japan, but longing for a European life! Love your blog and have many questions I would love to ask and might just send you an email.
    Have a great day!

    • Hi Rene, We park our car in a friend’s garage when we are not here and we suspend the insurance. I will be back in Bagni di Lucca next week. Please do send me an email with your questions. We are travelling in Spain just now and email access is a bit limited.

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