Why Tourists Planning To Rent A Car In Italy Need To Be Extra Alert When Driving

One of the biggest amateur moves travelers can make when visiting Italy is only sticking to major cities. Sure, there's great charm and history in Rome, Florence, Milan, and the Amalfi Coast, but to get a true taste of local Italian life, you'll want to get out and see the countryside. While Italy's train system is well regarded as an efficient way to travel around the country, in order to properly explore some of Italy's rustic charming small towns, you'll want to rent a car.

Renting a car in Italy, or anywhere for that matter, is naturally convenient as it allows you to move at your own pace and on your own schedule. With the freedom of a car, you can visit off-the-beaten path destinations, from hard-to-reach historical towns in Basilicata to must-visit spots in Tuscany. However, like anywhere, you'll need to follow local road rules and laws. Overall, the rules of driving in Italy are pretty straightforward, albeit the drivers here have a reputation for being aggressive, but there is one particular traffic sign you'll want to keep an eye out for, especially when driving in large cities: Zona Traffico Limitato. Zona Traffico Limitato signs are a quick way to get slapped with a hefty fine when driving through Italy, so here's what you'll need to know about these pesky little zones before jumping in your rental Fiat.

What is a Zona Traffico Limitato?

If you want to avoid traffic fines when driving through Italy, you'll want to avoid driving through Zona Traffico Limitato entirely. The question is, how will you know if you're driving through one or not? And what exactly is a Zona Traffico Limitato?

A Zona Traffica Limitato is a specific area, often in larger cities, where traffic is prohibited to protect historical sights. Each Zona Traffico Limitato is equipped with cameras, meaning simply driving past a "ZTL" sign will automatically flag your license plate and promptly slap you with a fine. These fines can be extra sneaky, too; many travelers report receiving a fine up to a year after renting a car in Italy.

There are ways to avoid ZTL areas entirely, however. Since they are primarily found within major cities, a surefire bet to avoid the hefty fines that come with driving through ZTLs, whether intentional or not, is simply by not driving in major cities. One of the greatest uses of having a car in Italy is to explore small towns. You usually don't need a car in tourist hotspots because public transit is readily available in places like Naples and Florence. Better yet, most major Italian cities are extremely walkable, and simply using your feet is a great way to explore hidden gems that you might have otherwise missed.

Other cautions to take when driving in Italy

Driving in Italy is indeed possible, but it's not quite for the faint of heart. While major highways are well paved with typically clear road signs, driving through towns and cities is chaotic at best. Streets are often extremely narrow, and, yes, they are usually two-way, meaning you should feel confident and well equipped to reverse should a car be coming your way. If you're a U.S. traveler, you'll need to get accustomed to measuring distances in kilometers instead of miles. This includes following speed limits (for example, if the speed limit is "130," it's not 130 mph, but kph). It should also be noted that Italy drives on the right side of the road.

While many cars available for rental in Italy are manual, it is indeed possible to get an automatic rental if you're more comfortable with that mode of driving. A reliable way to guarantee you get a car with your preferred mode, including size and make of vehicle, is to use a site such as Booking.com and narrow your selection down to your preferred methods. Though you might sometimes question if you really need rental car insurance, it's highly recommended to do so when driving in Italy. If you have a travel credit card, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, and you use it to book your rental car, auto insurance is often included. Otherwise, you can purchase rental insurance through a trusted company, like Allianz Travel.