Posted by: Debra Kolkka | January 31, 2013

A curious thing

Many of the roads in Italy are very narrow. Some were made for the occasional horse and carriage and were later widened to allow 2 way car traffic. This means that there are often no footpaths in some of the smaller towns and villages.

Here is the strange thing…99% of pedestrians in Italy walk with their backs to the traffic…little old ladies with linked arms, mothers pushing prams, people carrying shopping, men, children…all with their backs to the cars on the road. If you see someone facing the cars it will almost always be a foreigner.

As children, we were taught to look to the right, look to the left, look to the right again, walk straight across the road, don’t run…and, if you must walk on the road, face the oncoming cars….so that you can SEE them.

I am astounded that hundreds of people aren’t flattened by cars every day. I know the motorists are very good at avoiding people, but wouldn’t it be better to have 2 sets of eyes looking out for each other?

Curious is not really the correct word. I think idiotic is more appropriate.


I have no photographic evidence as I am usually driving when I notice this…but you get the picture.

There has been much comment about the skill of Italian drivers…and I agree with this. They handle their cars very well, and can park in places I would be flat put parking a bicicle…BUT, they drive much too fast for the conditions, they overtake when it is dangerous to do so, cut corners, talk on their mobile phones while driving, and children are seldom strapped into seat belts and are often standing between the front seats!!!!

…and not all drivers on Italian roads are Italian. There are many confused tourists who take to the roads. I’m all for facing oncoming traffic when I am walking and being very alert anywhere near a road.


  1. When in Italy you have to adopt a whole new way of dealing with traffic from a pedestrian point of view. It is an adventure.

    • It is an adventure. I try to stay alert at all times and face oncoming traffic.

  2. I love that little truck. It wouldn’t be Italy would it, if it didn’t make one throw one’s hands in the air?

    • I am constantly astonished by things here in Italy. Somehow it all seems to work in its own way.

  3. The walkers own the road. Especially the old ladies in black. No-one is his right mind would bowl one of those terrifying old women over! Bless them.c

    • Some of those old ladies are fearsome…I wouldn’t want to take one on.

  4. I am right with you there on the insanity of driving or walking on Italian street. Big city, small village, it doesn’t matter! On my other blog ( I posted several times about the craziness of Sicilian drivers. Of course this applies all over Italy and not just to Sicilians.

    • You take you life in your hands every time you go near a road here. It can be terrifying.

  5. Italian drivers are actually very skilled, but as a pedestrian, I found that you do need to look them in the eye to get their attention. 🙂

    • I agree that Italian drivers are very skilled, but not all drivers here are local. There are lots of terrified foreigners as well.

  6. I think Italian pedestrians (especially the little old ladies) have eyes in the back of their heads – or very good spacial antennae that can sense vehicular presence before it hits them. And Italian drivers do seem to have extraordinary reflexes! A lot of things we insist on for safety in North America – like helmets, for example – seem to be a much smaller deal there.

    • I still prefer to use the eyes in the front of my head when being a pedestrian here.

  7. Debra,
    During our stay in Tuscany in September 2012 I rented a Pugeot station wagon and drove from Rome to BDL and many other places. At first I found the Italian drivers irritating but soon began to understand and appreciate the “local rules of the road” as practiced there. I now find California drivers with whom I must share the roadsirritating and wish they would have the discipline of the Italians respecting the use of passing lanes.

    On one occasion I missed my turn going to the Villa we rented and found myself being funneled into a progressively narrow road until my side mirrors started scraping the buildings on each side. I realized then why the car had a power switch to tuck the mirrors against the side of the car :-). I cautiously reversed course and managed to get out of that scrape without any further damage! Fun, fun, fun and good stories to relate over the years!

    • Driving here is an adventure. I am getting used to it, but I am always on full alert while driving.

  8. You are so right.There is one old guy who walks from Fornoli to Ponte a Serraglio always with his back to the traffic.He does wear a yellow jacket but you can`t rely on the drivers, as once i saw him hit on the shoulder by a car`s wing mirror.He just kept on walking !

    • It takes no extra effort to face oncoming traffic, and to me it is just common sense…but then, one must not assume that common sense is common.

  9. Narrow roads, pedestrians, they are all part of the scene, nut to me, the most dangerous are kamikaze scooter drivers…

    • …and don’t get me started on those bike riders all over the roads riding 3 abreast and having chats.

  10. I love your astute observations Debra. The more time I spend in Italy, driving and walking I do think though that the Italians have got it right, it takes a bit of getting used to but Britain would do well to adopt the Italian way of road etiquette.

    • Walking with your back to traffic is stupid what ever country you are in. The death statistics on Italian roads might prove that you are not correct about Italians getting it right.

  11. I find Italian drivers have rather sharper reactions than drivers in the UK. This may be partly genetic but I think a lot of it has to do with their driving experience and survival instinct! I did have to get used to headlight etiquette though, Just because someone flashes at you at the end of a narrow one-vehicle-wide street doesn’t mean that they are going to let you through first! Also, indicator light technique seems a bit lacking. As already suggested, always be sure to catch drivers’ eyes before doing anything on the road – that’s the best piece of advice I’ve learnt and, hopefully, will survive another day.

    • I think the drivers in Italy are very skillful, but they drive too fast and take too many risks.

  12. Unfortunately the truth is that there are many many fatal accidents involving pedestrians. And cyclists. I’ve seen way too many. Don’t get me started but I think Italians are often arrogant and reckless drivers. I’ve even been told that I am ‘driving with my uterus’ (see my blog post) by a cranky old man. The roads are a battleground over here.

    • I know there are a lot of accidents in Italy, the road toll is terrible. They may be able to handle cars very well, but the road are narrow and there are too many cars…they should be more careful.

  13. Ha ha curious indeed! But you obviously haven’t been to India, where people walk in every direction, sometimes ON the road 😀

    • I have been to India…that is a different type of chaos. I saw a bike rider knocked off his bike on a roundabout and the driver didn’t even stop. People wander all over the roads here too…I just don’t get it.

      • Sandra and i were in Kerala some years back – we loved it but had to get used to the road users in the big towns – especially the sacred cows – who seemed to be the ones least in peril of being run over!

  14. Last night I went to see a documentary ‘Italy – Love it or Leave it’. Although it doesn’t touch on this particular peculiarity it does ‘visit’ a number of other ones. Have you seen it? Of the places they visited in their 6 month travels to various parts of the country, your Toscana was the most picturesque. It’s worth the time if you can see it, you might even be surprised at some of the revelations….still.

    • Thank you for the tip, I will look out for it.

  15. Debra, come to visit Ferrara, the town of bicycles, and you’ll see how bikers spring out from everything… then you’ll tell me what’s the worst 😀

    • I look forward to a visit to Ferrara and I will keep an eye out for the bikes.

      • Ferrara is a magnificent place – its old art is quite unlike that of any other Italian city and it is one of the first planned renaissance towns – don’t forget to visit the lovely Palazzo Schifanoia (“Schifanoia” = “down with boredom”!.

  16. Way back in 1989, on a Contiki bus tour around Europe, the tour stayed for a night in the small French village of Theize (near Lyon). That village had extremely narrow roads, with stone fences along the side (and no footpaths, of course). A few of us went for a walk around the village. And when a car came past, you had to press your body against the stone fence, to avoid getting run over !

  17. Ah traffic… pedestrians…. yes we were brought up like you, and I can still hear the ghostly jingle of that public ad they played endlessly on TV when I was a kid… “When out at night, wear something white… wear something white at night!” Walking in the rain on a moonless night on the unlit curving Norfolk coastroad has to rank up there in scariness. I take a torch. The cars can’t see you on a curve no matter which side of the road you are on and their headlights dazzle you.

  18. I’m sure I was one of those “crazy” tourists who walked down the narrow streets of Marostica facing the traffic. My sister used to live near there and she always joked about how the Italian drivers could thread a truck through the eye of a needle to get into a parking space.

    Looking forward to your adventures on this side of the Atlantic soon!

  19. Oh the Italian driving and pedestrians… Such a leap-frog game. 😀 another reason why Italy is such a “breath-taking” country. And yes, we outsiders are dangerous.

  20. I thought being run over by one of those crazy drivers would be a given after being in Rome for a few hours …. I held onto the children’s hands in a fierce grip and with dodging, apologies and some risks we survived. A couple of weeks later in Spoleto with our agriturismo host I noticed how she just walked across the road not waiting for a break in the traffic and realised that she “owned” the road. She had that aura about her and perhaps a belief that the drivers would avoid her. They did, but I still played it safe LOL.

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