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DRIVING

Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

As if the process of obtaining an Italian driving licence wasn’t complicated enough, you also have to take the tests in Italian.

Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test
Photo by Vincenzo PINTO/AFP

If you’re a resident in Italy and want to drive on the nation’s roads, you may need to get an Italian patente di guida – depending on whether Italy recognises licences issued in your country.

At the moment, some of Italy’s British residents are working on passing their tests again in Italian just in case, as it remains unclear whether UK-issued licences will still be valid from the end of this year.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

Other international residents find themselves taking the driving test in Italy for various reasons, such as finding themselves living in a rural area and needing a car for the first time.

Passing through all the stages of applying, taking theory and practical tests – for which there is a limit on how many attempts you can take – all make for a demanding experience.

The language barrier can be the biggest obstacle to passing, as it’s not possible to take the tests in English.

Some regions of Italy do allow residents to take tests in French, German or other languages widely spoken in the area, but so far none have an English-language option.

And while some of Italy’s foreign residents have told us that they’ve been putting off getting their Italian driving licence, as they were so daunted by this part of the process, others say it’s nothing to be scared of.

Those who’ve done it and made it through the other side, patente proudly in hand, tell us the language needed is “technical and formal”. So much so, that you’ll know how to label engine parts and tyre terminology once you’re through.

As there is an Italian Driving Manual and several online portals for practising the theoretical knowledge in Italian (see the bottom of the page for details), we’ll focus on the practical side of getting your Italian driving licence – the language you’ll need in your driving lessons and the final exam, the esame di guida.

It’s likely your instructor will speak to you in the imperative, the command form, as it’s the most appropriate for asking you to do something quickly. Let’s assume you’re on good terms with your instructor and we’re using the informal version of the imperative.

Here are some useful phrases and driving-related vocabulary that will help you to achieve motoring freedom.

Driving basics: getting going

Accendi la macchina: Turn on the car

Accendi le luci anteriori: Put on your headlights

Metti la freccia: Put on your indicator

Gira il volante a sinistra/destra: Turn the wheel to the left/right

Il semaforo è verde, rosso, giallo: The traffic light is green, red, yellow

Ferma la macchina: Stop the car

Accelera: Speed up

Frena: Brake 

Rallenta / Riduci la velocità: Reduce your speed

Piede sulla frizione: Step on the clutch 

Mettiti la cintura: Put on your seatbelt

Assicurati che gli specchietti siano ben posizionati: Make sure your rearview mirrors are correctly positioned

READ ALSO: Who are the worst drivers in Europe?

Gears (Marce)

Metti la prima, la seconda, la terza, la quarta, la quinta marcia: Go into first, second, third, fourth, fifth gear

Metti in folle: Put the gearbox in neutral

Turning and moving around

Vai in questo senso unico: Drive along this one-way road 

Dai la precedenza: Give way

Supera il camion: Overtake the lorry

Entra/inmettiti in autostrada/rotonda: Merge onto the motorway/roundabout 

Ricorda che è una strada a senso unico/a doppio senso: Remember it’s a one-way/two-way road 

Prendi la prima/seconda/terza uscita: Take the first/second/third exit

(Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI/AFP)

Controlla il punto cieco: Check your blind spot 

Guarda lo specchietto retrovisore/posteriore: Look through the rearview mirror

Cambia corsia: Change lane

Mettiti nella corsia interna/esterna: Take the inside/outside lane

Prendi la prossima uscita : Take the next exit

Precautions

Non superare i limiti: Don’t go over the speed limit

Attento(a) alla svolta/curva: Be careful with the turn/bend

Fai attraversare i pedoni sulle strisce: Let the pedestrians cross at the zebra crossing

Assicurati che l’incrocio sia libero: Make sure there’s no oncoming traffic at the crossing  

READ ALSO: British drivers in Europe to escape speed camera fines (and vice versa)

Parking 

Metti la retromarcia: Reverse 

Accendi le luci d’emergenza/le quattro frecce: Put on your emergency/hazard lights

Parcheggia a nastro/a lisca di pesce/a pettine: Parallel park, park at an angle, park in line

Tira/togli il freno a mano: Pull up/down the handbrake 

Extra useful phrases

Suona il clacson: Honk your horn

Aziona i tergicristalli: Put on the windshield wipers

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Now you’re all set for the road, you can prepare for your theory exam with these useful sites:

For more information on driving in Italy, check the Italian government’s page on steps to obtain a Patente B.

Member comments

  1. Sure, foreigners should learn the language of their host country. However, not everyone has the opportunity to do that before requiring a driving licence. And they certainly can’t learn it well enough to pass trick questions that fool even native speakers. Many EU countries understand that, which is why they have licence exchange agreements and offer tests in other languages.

    And then there is Italy. You can go to any bancomat or self-serve petrol station and select any of six languages. Yet, the electronic driving exam only comes in one. There’s simply no technical or economic reason for that.

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For members

DRIVING

EXPLAINED: The traffic signs you need to know about when driving in Italy

When you start driving on Italy's roads, you'll need to get to grips with a host of new signs and symbols. Here are some of the most common ones you should know about.

EXPLAINED: The traffic signs you need to know about when driving in Italy

If you’re a visitor to Italy or are new to the country, you might be confused by the various traffic signs and what all the different symbols mean.

People who get their Italian driving licence have studied all these in-depth, but if you’re driving on holiday or you haven’t the need to sit the Italian driving test, you can easily get into trouble if you don’t understand the country’s particular rules of the road.

Here, we decode some of the most common traffic road signs you’ll come across.

Parking

Not knowing where you can park and for how long can land you with numerous types of fines.

Generally, if you’re not using a dedicated car park, you’ll need to take care and watch out for the colour of lines you see on the road and the signs you see on the street.

Blue lines mean you have to pay to leave your car there, usually via a parking metre.

Take care with yellow lines, as they are reserved for certain users, such as residents, workers or for going to the pharmacy. 

READ ALSO: How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties

If you see parking spots indicated by white lines, anyone can use those and they are usually free – but always check the roadside for any signs or instructions in case.

As you may expect, parking spaces are indicated with the letter ‘P’ (for parcheggio in Italian). In Italy, this is usually displayed on a blue background.

On the photo below, there are a few symbols you need to understand.

Starting from the left, this icon denotes a parking metre and means you’ll have to pay for a parking ticket to leave your car in that zone.

This is valid on workdays – demonstrated by the crossed pick-axes, while the cross means the rules also apply on ‘giorni festivi‘, which covers national holidays, as well as Sundays.

The dates and times below the symbols show when these rules are valid – here, it means from April, 25th to September, 30th, from 8am – 8pm, therefore.

Italian traffic sign showing when and how you can park. Photo: Karli Drinkwater
 
There is much more information in the following parking sign, including the changing tariffs for the days of the week and the weeks of the year.
 
We see the parking metre symbol again, with 8-20 written underneath – meaning you need to pay for a parking ticket between 8am-8pm.
 
 
Below that, there are different sections of the year where the rules on parking change.
 
The first part concerns ‘prefestivo di Pasqua‘, which means the day before Easter marks the start of this tariff, and it runs until May, 31st.
 
On holidays (festivi) or the day before a holiday (prefestivi), the tariff is 80 cents an hour or €4 for the whole day.
 
Feriali‘ means workdays (not to be confused with the similar sounding word, ‘ferie‘, meaning holidays), so from Monday to Friday in this period, parking is free (gratuito).
 
The next one down is valid from June, 1st to June, 30th and from September, 1st to September, 15th. The holiday and eves of holidays are the same tariff, but this time, workdays are also paid parking – 50 cents an hour or €2.50 for the day.
 
Below that are the rates for peak season, defined here as July, 1st to August, 31st. The cross and pick-axes can be seen again, meaning that this applies to all days and there are no free parking days in this timeframe.
 
Finally, this sign indicates some extra instructions for camper vans – in this case, the tariff is 50 percent higher.

In the following parking sign, it’s indicated that only 30 minutes of a stop are allowed and the man pushing goods means that parking for this reason is only allowed for loading and unloading.
Photo: Karli Drinkwater

In the following sign, the red circle with a line through a blue circle indicates that parking is prohibited.

In the absence of any other symbols, the parking ban is valid 24 hours a day on roads outside of urban areas.

On urban roads, without any other instructions, the ban is in force from 8am to 8pm. Supplementary signs with figures, symbols or short inscriptions may limit the scope of this.

In this case, we can see a parking symbol next to an icon denoting the police. This indicates an exception to the rule for police vehicles.

The image below that showing a car being towed indicates that parking constitutes a serious obstruction or danger and that any vehicle parked there may be removed and transported to the municipal depot.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

This parking ban sign is 24 hours a day, indicated by the numbers below the ‘no parking’ symbol.

Again, we can see that any vehicle found parked there may be removed.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

In this example of a parking sign, you are allowed to park your car for 15 minutes, indicated by the 15′.

The symbol to the left of the number represents a parking disc, which you must display in the window of your car at your time of arrival.

If the time on the disc shows that you have been parked longer than 15 minutes, you could incur a fine.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

You may come across so-called ‘pink parking’ (parcheggio rosa)while driving in Italy.

Be aware that these are reserved for pregnant women and parents with children under two-years-old, so don’t park there unless that applies to you.

Since Italy’s Highway Code was updated, you’ll also need a permit to prove you’re eligible for these priority parking spaces.

Find out more about Italy’s pink parking here.

Italys pink parking permit allows pregnant women and parents with children under two years old to park in priority spots. Photo: Karli Drinkwater

ZTLs

Beware of the ZTL – this is one sign you’ll need to learn before driving anywhere in Italy, as there are a lot of them and infringing the rules can sting.

They catch out the best of us; they can be easy to miss as you may not even know what they are.

If you see a round road sign, a red circle containing the letters ‘ZTL’, don’t drive down that street unless you have a special permit.

If you’re just visiting Italy, it’s unlikely you will.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I buy a car in Italy if I’m not a resident?

ZTL stands for Zona Traffico Limitato (Restricted Traffic Zone) and you’re most likely to find them around congested areas and inner cities. The government introduced them to reduce pollution and so the only vehicles allowed to enter a ZTL are residents or businesses in the area.

If you unwittingly sail past one, the camera will take a shot of your registration number and you’ll get a fine of between €83 and €332, plus administrative costs, according to article 7 of the Highway Code.

In this road sign, we see that the ZTL applies 24 hours a day (0-24), but the extra information below shows there are some exceptions – under ‘eccetto‘.

You can drive down that ZTL without a permit if you’re on a scooter or motorbike, are disabled, a taxi or in this example, travelling to the two streets specified for services only.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

You would need electronic access to reach these streets in any case, which is something you’d receive with a permit.

Generally, if you’re just visiting Italy, don’t drive down a ZTL.

The red cross over the blue circle below that means no parking or stopping. In the absence of additional information, the ban is permanent and 24 hours a day. Your vehicle will be removed if it’s found stopped in any area where this sign is displayed.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

The following sign indicates that the ZTL has ended and you can drive beyond that point without needing a permit.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

Residential areas

Take care when driving through residential areas, as the rules may differ compared to driving in a town centre.

The top traffic sign of a house and tree with children playing indicates the start of a street or residential area where special rules apply, which are shown on another sign. We can see them right below.

Driving through this area is restricted to a max speed of 30km/h, followed by a sign prohibiting the transit of goods transport vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of more than 3.5 tonnes – unless it’s for loading and unloading goods.

That is unlikely to apply to you but the sign below might. It informs you that, if parking, you must park in the provided spaces.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

Pedestrian areas

You can’t drive down areas that are meant for pedestrians only, which is displayed with a round, blue sign containing a figure of a person walking.

It might also be accompanied by the description ‘area pedonale‘, meaning pedestrian area. Here, there are no times specified, so assume that it applies 24 hours a day.

There are exceptions in this sign, though. Cyclists may use that route, shown by the cycle symbol and the description ‘velocipiedi‘ (any form of pedalled vehicle with two or more wheels), as may authorised vehicles (veicoli autorizzati).

That could mean street sweepers or residents, for example. If you’re in doubt, it’s unlikely you can drive down that area.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater
 
See full details of Italy’s highway code here and visit our travel section for the latest updates.
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