Italy and Puglia, Driving and the Italian Highway Code

Street Parking in Italy

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It
seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver
ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”  –  John Steinbeck

After our evening meal and a walk through Alberobello in the moonlight we went to bed in the serene and quiet surroundings of our charming little Trulli but, we were abruptly woken at seven o’clock by the pounding of a pneumatic drill because the owner of the next door Trulli had chosen this particular day to begin renovations and the street outside was transformed into a building site and as I lay listening to the racket I had a horrible feeling that today was not going to be a good one.

And very quickly I was proved correct.  Puglia is sometimes called the ‘California of Italy’ because, being a predominantly agricultural region, it supplies plentiful fruit and vegetables to the whole of the country and as though to demonstrate this, today was market day in Alberobello.  And so, because Kim likes walking through markets and searching through hundreds of stalls all selling rubbish, we left the accommodation early and spent an hour among the market stalls while I tried to feign some sort of interest in scratting through market tat although I do have to confess that I did like the food sections with the cheese and hams and especially the vegetables.

There was a problem at breakfast because there was no black tea and it was too far to walk back to our Trulli to get emergency supplies and then once back at the room the construction noise had risen to breaking the sound barrier levels so it was clearly impossible to contemplate staying there for the day so now I had to face the biggest problem of the day so far – more driving in Italy and we made the decision to drive to the coastal town of Monopoli.


I would have been quite happy with leaving the car in its safe little parking spot for a second day but as I started the engine and nudged my way into the traffic I immediately began to regret hiring a car because I was really not enjoying the temporary responsibility for the brand new Renault Clio.

There are three main problems when driving in Italy and the first is the condition of the roads.  Unlike Spain, where the Government has spent millions of Euros investing in and improving the transport infrastructure and built many new roads and where driving is a pleasure, in Italy they clearly haven’t spent any of their EU money on highway improvements, the annual maintenance budget is zero and the condition of the roads is appalling which makes using them rather like like playing Russian roulette. Pot holed and poorly maintained and with white lines that were first painted when Mussolini was in charge they are down-right dangerous but on account of this there is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers because one of the biggest mistakes in the development of the modern world was to introduce the Italains to the motor car!

In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as a highway code in Italy.

Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, manners or tolerance, junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in.  They are ignorant and impatient and show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger.  At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.

The only exception to this is nun’s.  Italian drivers will not hit a nun – you see groups of them breezing across eight lane highways with amazing impunity, so if you wish to cross some busy place your only hope is to wait for some nuns to come along and stick to them like a sweaty T-shirt” – Bill Bryson

Driving in Italy is like one massive demolition derby!  Red lights are ignored, speed limits are purely advisory and it appears to be compulsory to drive while speaking on a mobile phone.  After half an hour or so my nerves were in complete tatters and my stomach as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road especially when we arrived in Monopoli and encountered the third problem when driving in Italy – finding somewhere safe to park the car.

There is no parking discipline because an Italian will gladly block you in, double-park, use the bumpers to nudge other cars out of the way, scratch and graze other parked vehicles on the way in or the way out and generally disregard all of the normal rules of parking a car.

It took me some while to find somewhere that I was reasonably happy with and found a spot away from the busy part of the town on the end of a street where hopefully no one could park behind me because I didn’t want to get back to the car later and find it sandwiched like this…

Car Parking In Italy


20 responses to “Italy and Puglia, Driving and the Italian Highway Code

  1. All sounds like normal driving for us these days 🙂 Actually I prefer it, the total lack of rules (or following them anyway) makes you drive on your skill, judgement, wits and the seat of your pants! I found some parts of northern Europe have become so dependant on road rules, that drivers simply cannot make their own decisions. One day in Halifax (UK) the traffic lights were out; and nobody dared move, just ill-equipped in experience of handling major junctions without imposed rules – I found it kind of sad. Ok, here is bonkers like Italy, but it’s like riding dodgems when your middle-aged COOL 🙂


    • I suppose once you get used to it it might seem ok but it scared the pants off me and I definitely wasn’t cool.
      I have just quickly researched some statistics. According to World Health Organisation, Italy averages 12 road deaths per 100,000 vehicles, Turkey has a staggering 97.1! Spain has 10 and Greece 21.
      By contrast UK is third safest at 5.1 behind Malta (4.6) and Iceland (5).
      I am not saying that these statistics are correct by the way!


  2. I agree with Uncle Spike… once you get use to it driving in Italy can actually be quite liberating. Things that would be considered bad manners or downright aggressive in the UK are just normal driving here, so there’s no need for road rage. Someone would have to do something truly outstanding to make me angry on the road these days, most of the time I just marvel at it all!


  3. I don’t believe I would get into a vehicle in Italy, whether to drive it myself of be driven. 🙂


  4. I will remember this. We have driven though, from Venice to Lake Como one end of summer in 2006 I think. It was okay, I guess. Mostly freeway driving until we reached our destination Albergo.

    Driving seemed easier in Provence. And in Spain, as you mentioned.


  5. I am going to try driving in Italy next summer. I drive too fast and aggressive, so I might be ok. But I will likely give my DH a heart attack as he drives like my grandma.

    Thanks for your perspective. Glad you survived!


  6. We have had about the same problems in Italy. Once we were caught in a town where all signs were weird so that we constantly returned to the same spot again. No way out. I do not remember how we finally made it…but I do remember us breaking some rules on the way out…


  7. I love the line…’my nerves were in complete tatters and my stomach as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road’. I am definitely getting the mood. Best be off to find a quiet little bar I think. 🙂


  8. On an entirely different subject, I do like that watercolour of the trulli


  9. Ever drive in Palermo or Catania? What you have described is mere child’s play in comparison. Your description of parking , in my experience, is accurate and funny– especially in Sicily. ( Traffic signals are suggestions) Actually, I found that driving in Italy is generally oK, especially when driving outside of large cities. Just returned from driving in Ireland. The main roads are extemely narrow and that was scary for me. Italynot so much.


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