Driving in Italy with Kids: Everything You Need to Know
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
Driving in Italy with kids is a good option when you plan on getting out of the big cities and exploring the Italian countryside. Especially with kids, driving gives you flexibility and the ability to reach charming towns and locations that are not as easily accessible by public transportation. Driving gets you off the beaten path, where you’ll discover more of the authentic Italy.
If you only plan on visiting the large cities or major tourist destinations like the Amalfi Coast, leave the driving to the locals. Many major city centers are off-limits to unauthorized traffic, and parking can be a headache.
Before picking up your rental car and hitting the road, read on to find out what you need to know about driving in Italy with kids. I’ll cover the documents you need, car seats, driving laws, helpful information, traffic signs and parking in Italy.
What You Need to Drive in Italy
Before leaving for your trip, go through this checklist of the documents you will need to drive in Italy. Also, download my checklist with a helpful trip planning timeline for everything you will need for your trip to Italy here.
Your Driver’s License
International Driver’s Permit
Proof of Liability Insurance (Note: Most credit cards do NOT cover car insurance in Italy. If you are getting travel insurance make sure it covers driving in Italy or purchase from the rental car agency .)
Using Car Seats in Italy
The car seat laws in Italy are as follows. Remember these are just the minimum requirements; you will not be penalized for being safer than the law requires.
All Passengers must wear seat belts.
Children under 97 pounds (36 kg) or 4 ft. 9 in. (150 cm) need to be in an appropriate restraint.
Babies weighing up to 9 lbs. (4 kg) must be in a rear-facing child car set in the back of the car. (Remember this is just the MINIMUM, many US states enforce rear-facing laws until age two and car- seat experts agree to try to continue rear-facing until at least age 4). If you rear-face at home, rear-face in Italy.
If your child weighs less than 48.5 pounds (18kg) they must be seated in a child car seat.
If your child weighs more than 48.5 pounds (18 kg), it is legal for them to use a booster seat. (If your child exceeds this minimum but still sits in a car seat at home, still use a car seat in Italy. The roads do not get safer in Italy.)
I recommend bringing your car seat from home. I hear constant complaints from people who try to rent car seats on their overseas travels. The complaints range from dirty car seats to missing parts, and old, outdated and unsafe seats. The only way to ensure your car seat is safe and fits your child properly is to bring one you are familiar with using. If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, read my post Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Trip to Italy with a Baby or Toddler for my advice on traveling with a car seat. Also, view my shop to see my recommended travel car seats.
Installing Car Seats in Italy
Your specific child car seat installation manual and the rental car owner manuals must be consulted for the precise installation procedures adequate to your seat and rental car. However, the following are general recommendations that you should consider:
Most cars will not have locking seat belts. If your car seat has built-in lock-offs, you should be fine with a normal seat belt installation. If you have a car seat without a built-in lock-off, practice installing the car seat with a locking clip before you leave home.
Isofix anchors have been required in new cars since around 2012/2013. You can use Isofix anchors just as you would the lowers anchors in an American vehicle to install a child seat, as long as there is also a top tether. To be safe, make sure you also know how to install the car seat with a seat belt using a locking clip.
Before leaving for your trip, read through the proper installation options for your car seat, and be familiar with the different ways to install. Also make sure to bring with you a hard copy of your specific seat installation manual. Additionally, consult the car owner manual for additional specific information on the proper installation of child seats.
Driving Laws in Italy
Minimum age to drive in Italy is 18 years.
Speed Limit: Unless otherwise posted, these are the speed limits in Italy:
80 mph (130 kph) on highways
68 mph (110 kph) on non-major highways outside of large urban areas
56 mph (90 kph) on local road
31 mph (50 kph) in urban areas
It is illegal to text, talk on a phone, or hold a phone while driving.
Don’t drink and drive. A blood-alcohol level of more than 0.05 percent is considered legally intoxicated in Italy.
No right turns on red.
Like in the US, you must stop when a school but is stopped and unloading and loading passengers.
Drive with your lights on. Even on sunny days, the law requires your headlight on outside of urban areas.
Speeding tickets are common in Italy. Speeding cameras, called Autovelox, are common on highways and heavily trafficked roads.
Good to Know
When renting a car, remember that the small and& compact cars in Italy are VERY small. Consider the luggage you will be traveling with when choosing what size car to rent.
You can also reserve a GPS when reserving your car. Google maps on our phone has always worked for us. A good ‘ol fashioned paper map is a great back up and fun for planning out your trip with the kids.
Use the Correct Gas
Make sure you know if your rental car uses gasolio (diesel) or benzina (petrol) and fill your tank up with the correct one.
Italian Style Driving
Italian drivers are fast, aggressive, and often do not obey traffic laws. Do not expect an Italian driver to yield even if you have the right of way. Your best bet is to use your defensive driving skills.
Pass on the Left
On the autostrada (the highway), never pass on the right. You can only legally pass on the left lane. If you are not actively passing cars, move to the right lane. Passing on the right is unexpected and illegal, which will inevitably increase the risk of an accident in Italy.
The international three-color traffic light system is used just like in the US. The lights are placed at the point you are supposed to stop, not across the intersection like it is in the United States.
Tolls will be found on the autostrada (the highway). You can pay with cash or credit card.
Basic Italian Words to Know
Uscita = Exit
Entrata = entry
Corsia = lane
Cambio di corsia = lane change
Freccia = turn signal
Eccesso di velocita` = speeding
Multa = ticket
Divieto di sosta = No parking
Strada = street
Autostrada = freeway
Casello autostradale = Freeway toll booth
Senso unico = one way
Traffic Signs in Italy
Italian road signs can be very helpful, especially in the countryside. Signs direct which ways to go. Blue signs indicate main roads that are not autostrada (highways). Green signs indicate the autostrada, (the highway) which are toll roads. The Brown sign indicates the way to the point of interest. In this case, if you wanted to go to Rome you would follow the direction of the green sign. If you wanted to go to the town of Sinalunga you would go left. If you wanted to see the church “Monte Oliveto M.,” you would drive 20 km in the direction the brown sign is pointing.
In this image, the red circle with the number 30 indicates the speed limit is 30 kilometers per hour (km/hr).
This blue sign indicates the minimum speed limit. In this case, the minim speed limit is 30 km/hr.
End of a Zone
The cross through a sign indicates the end of a restricted zone. In this case, it means the minimum speed limit of 30 no longer applies.
Limited Traffic Zone
Don’t drive in an area that says Zona Traffico Limitato (Limited Traffic). Most cities and many small towns have these zones near the historic center. Special permits are needed to drive in the limited traffic zones. There are usually cameras that take a photo of your license plate as you enter. If your hotel is located inside one, they should be able to provide you with a permit. Some signs will be a round white circle outlined in red.
Area Pedonale (Pedestrian Zone) are for pedestrians only.
This is a no passing sign although many Italians may ignore it. If you see one with a big truck and a car it means cars can pass but trucks cannot.
The one-way signs used to say “SENSO UNICO.” Most have been updated to this new version with an arrow pointing you in the correct direction for traffic.
Right of way
This sign means you have the right of way. This sign with a cross through it means you need to yield to traffic.
You need to yield to traffic, beware, many Italians ignore this sign.
Right of way
Most likely, you would see this sign on a narrow road telling you have the right of way.
This is the opposite of the above sign. Most likely seen on a narrow road, this tells you to yield to oncoming traffic.
Do not enter
No through road
This T shaped sign means No Through Road. It’s important to pay attention to this in small towns where you may have to turn around to get back out; this can be difficult on some very narrow streets.
When driving in the countryside headed to a town, look for the white and black circular sign indicating the way to the historic center of town.
Stop signs in Italy look the same as stop signs in the US. Just be careful, most Italians treat them more like yield signs.
Parking in Italy
This blue and red sign is a no parking sign. If this sign is accompanied by time frames, it means no parking between these specific times.
A parking sign like this with no other information means free parking.
A sign like this but says “Esporre biglietto prepagato distribuito presso rievendite autorizzate” translates to “display the prepaid ticket distributed by authorized vendors.” To find out where to purchase the ticket, head to a nearby café and ask, “Dove posso comperare un biglietto per il parcheggio?” When you get your parking card, scratch off the date and time of your arrival and place on your dashboard.
Check to see if there are any other signs adjacent to the blue parking sign. For example, if there was a sign under it that said: “ 1 ora, 9.00-13.00” that means there is one-hour parking between the times of 9 am to 1 pm.
Where parking is allowed, you may also have to look for lines drawn on the street to indicate the following.
Yellow lines are reserved for residents, deliveries, or the disabled.
Blue lines are metered parking. Find a machine to pay for the length of time you intend to stay.
White lines are Free Parking UNLESS you see a sign that says “Solo Autorizzati” or “Solo Residenti,” those spots are only for residents.
Your next step in planning your trip to Italy with kids is downloading my Free Travel Planner! Included in the planner is:
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Suggested Travel Gear
Carry-on Checklist by Age
Packing Checklist by Age
Discount Codes for Tours, Rentals, Babysitters & More!
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