“Apparently the rule of driving in Italy is that
you can never be behind anyone.”
Driving in Europe seems like an easy proposition for Americans. In the British Isles there is the challenge of driving on the left side of the road but the signs are in a language we understand (mostly). On the continent the words are different but we are on the right (correct!) side of the road and the signs are pretty consistent from one country to the next.
But there are unexpected wrinkles in the landscape which you should be aware of to make your trip as pleasant as possible.
One easy preparation you can make before driving in another country is to get an International Driving License. This document is merely a translation of your domestic license; no written or behind the wheel test is required. You can get an IDL from the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the National Automobile Club (NAC). It costs $15 and is available to non-members as well as members of each club.
Although an international driver’s license is not required by law in many countries, it is required in some countries (Italy and Spain for example). And it can be a helpful thing to have when you rent a car or have to deal with police unexpectedly. If you plan to drive in any country outside the US, I recommend getting an International Driving License.
What about the rules of the road? It is a good plan to drive as your best-behaved self when you drive in Europe. Rules vary but in general it is a good idea to always wear a seatbelt, and to avoid using a cellphone (to talk or text) while driving. Be observant and polite, and don’t assume you can get away with something shady. Who needs a personal encounter with a gendarme?
Stay in the slower lane when you are not passing another car. The German Autobahns have suggested maximum speeds; get out of the way promptly if you see a car coming up behind you fast, flashing headlights.
The variety of languages in close proximity to each other has prompted Europeans to develop international pictorial signs which are pretty self-explanatory once you know a few basic guiding principles.
Speed limit signs are white circles with a red border with the maximum number of kilometers per hour posted in the center. Minimum speeds are posted on a blue circle. Triangular signs are warnings of a possible hazard ahead: slippery road, heavy pedestrian traffic, and livestock crossing. Circular signs with a red border and a diagonal red bar through them show what is prohibited in this area. With a little practice, reading the signs gets easier, regardless of the words. See if you can decipher the signs at the left.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
15 October 2015