Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad
Italy has a bad reputation for driving, which is only partly deserved. Italian drivers are almost comically aggressive – they will come up behind you and tailgate while flashing their lights just in case you didn’t notice them. Inevitably, there is one of these drivers on your tail every time you are uncertain about a turn; ignoring them and avoiding stupid mistakes requires a certain zen calm.
That said, roads and vehicles are generally up to EU standards. If you can ignore the aggressive drivers, Italy isn’t more of a challenge than, say, France or Spain. There are lots of pre-car roads, although often these can be avoided by using park-and-ride lots (or park-and-funicular; or park-and-elevator – Italy probably has more of these park-and-whatever combinations than anywhere else on earth).
That said, the richer parts of Italy (mostly in the north) have some issues with bad urban planning, which can make things challenging. Italy has also been under a decade of austerity, and in poorer regions the road conditions can be pretty bad. Usually not dangerous, just bumpy – public services are not necessarily incompetent, just starved of money.
The automated payment machines in Italian gas stations take some getting used to. Each machine operates several pumps so you have to first find the machine, put your money in it, and then select the pump where you have pulled up.
In many Italian towns and cities, cars are forbidden (except residents’ cars, of which there are an awful lot). You have to park and ride. Rome has a bizarre system of various zones being forbidden to private vehicles at certain times. You can download a handy map of these zones, and on weekends there is reasonable meter parking on the roads by the Tiber (as of 2018, outside the zones).
A typical Italian road hazard, encountered in Umbria. Photo by the author.