A geezer relearns the driving rules in Italy

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Ed Perkins

Italy is one of the world’s top destinations: Great beauty, great history, great people, and great food – what’s not to like? And one of the best ways to enjoy this fabulous country is to rent a car and drive through some of the great places.

But if you decide to do this, you have to modify some of your usual driving habits. The last 10 days driving in Southern Italy reminded me of the “rules” here:

1. Rent an automatic. I don’t care if you’re a dedicated stick-shift addict, Italian touring requires too much start-and-stop and slow-down speed-up driving to make stick shifting practical. You need to devote 100 percent of your attention to what’s in front of you and in back of you to cope with changing the gears every two or three minutes.

2. Get used to being tailgated. I can’t begin to count the times someone tailgated me for a few blocks, as if they had to pass, then turned off on a side street. Or maybe they did pass, then still turned off almost immediately.

3. If you’re touring the countryside, stay in the countryside. Even in the smaller cities, the center areas almost always feature stop-and-go levels of traffic in narrow, crowded streets. If you really want to do city and town centers, forget the rental car and get a railpass.

4. Be prepared for automatic gas. Although Italy has lots of full-service stations, you often find that the only available fuel supply is at an automated and unattended pump station. Many such stations accept U.S. credit or debit cards, but not all of them. To be sure you can gas up when you want, always have enough euros to put into the “banknotes” slot.

5. Those big, busy service complexes you see every 10 or 20 miles along the Autostradas exact a stiff penalty for convenience. Typical prices along regular highways run about 1.40 euros a liter, but on the autostrada, the price is more like 1.70 per liter.

6. Expect bumps. Except for the Autostrada, most regular highways, at least in the region where I visited, were rough and full of bumps and holes.

7. Be assertive. Watch local drivers and learn: Often, the only way to make a (legal) turn into traffic is to just start turning, figuring someone will let you in line. If you timidly wait for a gap, you may be there an hour.

8. Relax and enjoy. If this report sounds like a put-down, it really isn’t. I love Italy, its drivers, and its roads. Just respect how their system works, and go with the flow.

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