Let’s discuss Italian drivers. Their reputation has crossed the Atlantic and somehow morphed into a mental picture of wild, suicide-prone maniacs behind the wheel whose one remaining goal before they leave this earth is to take you with them. That’s only true in Naples. I consider the drivers from the rest of Italy to be of the highest caliber….MUCH better than American drivers. In fact, that could be why they have the reputation for aggressiveness in the US: they’re TOO good.
What might be thought of as aggression is actually just confidence. They have to go through very rigorous training to get a license, culminating in a written test which most people fail the first time they take it. I’m hoping things have changed in the US since I started driving, but at that time, a pulse and being able to sign your name were pretty much the only prerequisites to getting a license. Italians, on the other hand, have had the rules drummed into their heads by the time they’re allowed out on their own. They know how to expertly back up, as well as get in the smallest of parking spots. And perhaps best of all, they drive on the right and pass on the left.
If ever you see a car in the left lane of the autostrada, clogging traffic by going slower than everyone else, you can be sure it’s an American. If they hang out there too long, at some point a European will come up from behind and tailgate. This is not a hostile sign; it is simply a reminder that there are other drivers on the road, and you should move over. In the US, the reaction is: “By God, I paid good tax money for these roads and if I want to stay out here in the left lane all the way from Maine to Key West, that’s my God-given right as a tax-paying American…..blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…..” It’s considered rude to suggest that perhaps the road wasn’t made just for you. In Italy, it’s considered rude if you disregard the drivers around you.
Italian secondary roads are usually a mixture of two, fast moving lanes with a third lane popping up from time to time. Passing is encouraged and considered normal. I don’t know how things are where you live, but where I am in the US, passing on a 2-lane road is a totally lost art, so it’s no wonder that American drivers are startled when an Italian who’s late for lunch skillfully whizzes by them, quickly disappearing in the distance.
And then there are their tertiary roads – the ones I love to bike on. These can be so winding that you can never get your car up to 35 mph before the next curve forces you to slow down again. I say “you” can’t do it – but “they” can, since they’ve been doing it since they got their first motor scooter at age 10.
Which brings up still another point. With the exception of the autostrada, Italians expect every possible kind of rolling vehicle on their roads, and don’t get frustrated with them. That’s why biking is so wonderful in Italy, versus in the US, where I’ve actually been spit upon. They expect bikers. They will tolerate lumbering farm equipment and api — those adorable 3-wheeled “trucks” that look like an enclosed motor bike with a small wagon attached to the back – which, even downhill, seem unable to go faster than about 15 mph. I saw people walking down one of the major 2-lane roads around us pushing shopping carts, and no one seemed to mind. They might be “aggressive” to other drivers, but that’s because they think you should know what you’re doing. They understand that the slow-movers have every right to be on the road, too.
One thing you seldom hear is an impatient horn. Italians’ goal is accommodation, not intimidation. They don’t take it as a loss of their manhood when someone passes them. If they’re in the left lane on the autostrada, and a faster moving auto approaches, they’ll automatically move over. If they’re the 15 mph ape on a back road, they’ll pull to the right when it’s safe to allow the faster-moving car to pass. If there are bikers on the road, they’ll deftly zip around them, not treat them like they don’t belong there. If someone blocks the lane to help an elderly woman from the car, they’ll patiently wait ’till she’s safe. Yes – the fast drivers do like to drive as fast as possible, but they do it with skill and control. And the slow drivers know to give the fast ones room. No raised fists, middle fingers, loud horns or road rage gunfire. As I said — once you understand how the game is played, you’ll find that rather than being maniacs, Italian drivers are really just VERY good drivers.