In my opinion, most all American drivers have no clue how to really drive. Very few understand the basic rules of the road and show absolutely no courtesy. It seems the style here is poke along making use of every distracting toy we all possess, with almost no attention paid to actually driving. Food, water, drinks, cell phones, music players, and personal hygiene activities occupy most of the time behind the wheel. And all traffic lanes are fair game at any speed. So are American drivers prepared to drive in countries where a more aggressive style is prevalent?
My answer for most people is no. But for real “drivers” that actually enjoy driving and consider that action primary, I say absolutely drive in Italy and any other country. That’s not to say driving in big cities is recommended there, but that goes for the USA as well. Anything outside the city center is actually great in all other countries, and even better than the USA. Roads are better marked and maintained there, believe it or not…even in Italy.
Many people have heard that Italian drivers are crazy, aggressive, and suicidal. They are aggressive and love speed, so all you need to do is fit in. Even with their aggressive style they are in control, predictable, and excellent drivers that know the rules. Sure they might not let you sneak in front of them, but that maneuver is up to you…just don’t cut them off or you’ll get into a frantic hand waving argument. If you can learn to go with the flow you’ll do fine.
So what about the roads? In general better than here. They actually spend tax dollars fixing them up, and signage is great if you understand the basics (more on that later). And the Auto Strada (freeways to us) are smooth, maintained, and designed for speed. And you can go really, really fast as long as you pay attention to the “radar” signs. Unlike the USA where the goal is to trick drivers and collect revenue, the European approach is to give you ample warning of a speed “camera” for safety reasons. Their goal is safety not revenue! Commendable.
Michelin maps and books have good information about signs, roads, and speed limits. But a lot of seemingly simple road signs can be hard for the average American driver to understand. And Italian-English conversion books don’t really help. For example a sign in Italy says “Rallentare”. It took me some digging to find out that means “slow down”. There are others and it’s important to know all the signs, so bone up before you go. And they use a lot of symbols, some of which we don’t. For example every bridge, no matter how small, has a name and a picture of a simple bridge. Tunnels have an image of a simple tunnel and always tell you, in kilometers how long the tunnel is. Imagine something that useful in the USA!
European signs are color coded and really help you find what you’re looking for. Blue and Green are used to indicate major roads and larger cities. White ones and brown ones are for smaller towns, attractions, hotels, and parking areas. That really is a blessing when you’re lost in a city. The Autoroutes (typically toll roads) are indicated by a special symbol on a green sign. But understand that Europeans don’t navigate by compass direction! Signs normally do not show N,S,E, or W like we do. And route numbers may or may not be used. The necessary key is to always know what town you want to head toward. And that might mean several smaller towns along the way if you want to get to a major city. So maps and local knowledge are crucial, even with a GPS on board. Here are some examples of typical signage:
Road signs use easy to understand symbols. Here are some common ones: