Italian Language Blog

Ancora una nuova legge da dimenticare! Posted by on Aug 20, 2009 in Culture

Recently my English sister in law, who lives with her family in France, came to stay with us for a week here in Italy. Having bravely driven right across France in a car packed with herself, her French husband, her three young children and all the paraphernalia necessary for a family holiday, she had the pleasure of encountering for the first time the Italian Autostrada, or should I say ‘The Italian Driver’. She had many interesting observations to make about the incredible skills possessed by this well known species when ‘behind the wheel’. Such as the ability to drive one meter behind you when you are trying to overtake a lorry at 130 kilometers an hour, and the even more impressive skill demonstrated when they overtake you on the inside lane! One of her many astute observations concerned the usage of il telefonino (cell phone) whilst driving, “isn’t it illegal to drive whilst talking on a mobile phone?” she asked a couple of days into her holiday. In fact I think that she had really begun to believe, judging by the number of people she saw engaged in the act, that it was actually illegal to drive when not talking on il telefonino!

The answer is yes it is illegal, yes there is una legge (a law) forbidding it, but…….beh! what can I tell you about laws in Italy! Well, for a start there are lots of them, some very sensible, and some very silly, and the great ‘law factory’ regularly turns out nice shiny new laws which we all know that we must seguire alla lettera (follow to the letter) for the first few months, and then of course they loose their ‘popularity’, gather dust and are gently neglected. Neglected to the point where it would not seem strange to see un Poliziotto chatting on his cell phone whilst driving, or ‘illegally’ parking on a pedestrian crossing outside a bar to pop in for a quick espresso.

Which brings me to one of the latest ‘shiny new laws’ which it seems is being diligently applicata alla lettera (applied to the letter), at least for now. The government seem to have moved their focus from the four wheeled to the more easily apprehended two wheeled offender a.k.a the common or garden ciclista (cyclist). In fact they are so serious about the terrible two wheeled menace that law breaking cyclists who are in possession of a patente (driving license) risk loosing points or even having their license suspended. For your edification I’ve listed below a few exemplary cases recently reported by the media.

Guida la bici ubriaco, patente sospesa (Riding a bike whilst drunk, license suspended): In Migliarino, near Pisa a 24 year old was stopped by the police after they observed him riding his bicycle in an erratic fashion. The young man, a resident of Lucca, had his license suspended and lost 10 points for driving a bicycle whilst drunk.

Multato ciclista a Bolzano (Cyclist fined in Bolzano): A 40 year old man received a hefty fine and had  5 points taken off his driving license after having been caught by the police in the act of using his telefonino whilst in the saddle.

Ciclista passa col rosso, via 6 punti dalla patente (Cyclist passes through a red light, 6 points taken away): In Bergamo a 43 year old ‘entrepreneur’ had the misfortune of running into a police patrol immediately after having jumped a red light on his bicycle. For this infraction, the cyclist lost 6 points on his driving license and had to pay a 150 euro fine.

Now, if we had solved our problems with drivers who insist on ignoring the many sensible laws which exist for the good of everyone, then perhaps it would make sense to start penalizing dangerous cyclists. What do you think, do you have any interesting observations to make about driving in Italy?


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  1. Gary:

    I have no problem with Italian drivers, I adapt quickly. My problem is with my wife.
    She is terrified of the driving and makes me drive slow, inviting the scorn of the
    other cars. Ever seen this tactic: You’re driving on the autostrada in the middle lane
    or the far right lane (slowly because of your terrified wife) and a car comes roaring
    up in the passing lane, shoots over to the lane next to you and passes you so
    closely that you wonder how he didn’t take the mirror off. Then he veers back to
    the passing lane. What fun! Anyway, I wait until she finally goes to sleep and then it’s
    off to the races. One year I made the mistake of renting a Jaguar and apparently
    that’s an image they don’t like – I sensed a bit of contempt. In Cassamassima I finally
    vented my frustration, racing with another sports car. My wife didn’t speak to me the rest of the day and slept in another room, but it was worth it!

  2. John Spallone:

    As an urban cyclist in San Francisco (recreational as well as commuting), I agree with the writer. It is important for safety of the individual cyclist, as well as the community at large, for cyclists to ride attentively. However, application of any laws related to safe behavior on the road (mobile phones, intoxication, etc.) must be at least uniform for motorists as well as other users of the road. BTW, I have found drivers in Italia to be more aware and courteous near cyclists than motorists in the USA.

  3. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I think foreigners were a bigger problem on the Autostrada when I was in Italy. The Germans in Mercedes Benz cars would come within a few feet of my VW ( I was in the fast lane going 90 mph) and beep their horns. I was told that Germans think that a VW has to yield to a Mercedes Benz. To be fair this was much more evident in Germany.

    The worse drivers, however, were the French with their funny looking cars going as fast as they could with their bright yellow lights on demanding you get out of their way or die. When I saw those yellow lights behind me, I knew to get in the slow lane, ASAP. (BTW, do the Italians have a term like ASAP – As Soon As Possible?)

    The Italians were wonderful compare to the Germans and French.


  4. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    While you are talking about laws, I want to ask this: I’ve noticed that some words enter Italian and are not changed. Words like ‘film’ and ‘homepage’. I suppose there are many more.

    Is there a legal authority in Italy that assigns the gender to new words? Is there a rule that all such words are masculine? And when an Italian invents a word, which gains currency, does that person get the right to choose the gender?

    This problem does not occur in English.


  5. Jean Quinlan:

    We lived in Sardegna for 3 years – and drove. An interesting note about traffic circles – those entering the circle have the right of way, which is completely opposite to other countries like the UK. Took some getting used to. As for traffic laws and adventure, try taking a taxi in Napoli for revving up your anxiety levels!

  6. Bill Rohwer:

    Wasn’t it Severgnini who wrote that for Italians, traffic laws are “advisory?”

    this may sound laughable, però, secondo me, Italians when behind the wheel on the autostrade (and only there) are far, far more disciplined drivers than we Californians. I feel in much more jeopardy driving on our freeways in California, even though at much lower speeds, than I do in Italia.

  7. Nikki:

    I love driving in Italy. It’s like all laws are merely suggustions until someone catches you. What’s hard for me is driving in the States when I go home to visit family. My poor mother refuses to ride in the car with me any more.

  8. Kim Muratori:

    My husband and I are driving from Roma to Tuscano and continuing throughout the countryside – I can’t wait!!
    I’ve been called Maria Andretti…any tips for having fun while staying safe?

  9. Serena:

    Salve Jean, When you say traffic circles do you mean rotonde (roundabouts)? If so the law in Italy changed a few years ago to be compliant with the rest of the EU, and you now have to give way to traffic on the roundabout, although mysteriously there do sometimes seem to be exceptions, and then of course there is the unpredictability of the drivers!


  10. Serena:

    Salve John, When we lived in the U.K. me and my husband cycled a lot, both to work and for leisure. I have to agree that drivers here in Italy are generally far more courteous and respectful of cyclists.


  11. Serena:

    Thanks to everyone for the interesting comments. If the general consensus is that Italian drivers are safer than drivers in America then I’m definitely never going to drive in America! Me and my husband have driven many times from Italy to Great Britain and back and while we feel that the British drivers are amongst the most aggressive, and the Germans the fastest (there are generally no speed limits on the German motorways, hence their expectation of being able to go as fast as they like here in Italy), the Italians are definitely the least predictable or should I say improvisational. Nikki sums it up well when she says ‘It’s like all laws are merely suggestions until someone catches you’. And that applies to everything here, not just driving!

    A presto, Serena

  12. Serena:

    Salve Kim, I’m not sure what you mean by your question ‘I’ve been called Maria Andretti…any tips for having fun while staying safe?’

    A presto, Serena

  13. Serena:

    Ciao Vince, You asked: ‘Do the Italians have a term like ASAP – As Soon As Possible?’ In Italian we use ‘al più presto possibile’ but it is not made into an acronym.


  14. Serena:

    Salve Vince, Foreign words that enter the Italian language in their original form remain as they are even in the plural, e.g. un caffe’, due caffe’. New words enter the Italian language almost daily, especially in the fields of computing, marketing and business, fashion (it’s not trendy anymore to use the word ‘moda’!), and media. Who chooses the gender? Normally it’s due to common usage, but there are times when a new word splits the populations in half; in that case it is the ‘Accademia della Crusca’, the official body that sets the rules of the Italian language, which makes the decision. As for your last question, ‘does that person get the right to choose the gender’, non lo so proprio!

    Cordiali saluti!

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