OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

In a country as attached to the car as Italy, what would it take to get more people to use greener transport? Silvia Marchetti looks at what’s behind the country’s high levels of car ownership.

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?
The Italian love of cars results in heavy traffic, parking nightmares and dangerous levels of pollution - but will this ever change? (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Many foreigners I speak to are shocked by the ‘car first’ mentality that rules in Italy, and by Italians’ degree of addiction to any wheeled vehicle. 

There’s practically one car around for each Italian. Between 2010-2020 the population dropped but there were three million more cars on the roads, despite soaring living costs and falling salaries. 

Italy’s rate of car ownership is the second-highest in Europe after tiny Luxembourg. All Italian regions have a lot of cars running but surprisingly, the number of passenger cars which is the highest at EU level can be found in the Alpine regions of Valle D’Aosta and the northern autonomous province of Trento, where particular regional statutes envisage special tax incentives helping locals to buy new cars.

Most Italians just don’t like walking. They aren’t active travelers who’d opt for a bike, and can’t go even 500 meters without a wheeled vehicle, be it a Jeep, motorbike, Vespa or motorino. 

But it’s not really their fault. People in Italy haven’t been educated on eco-friendly modes of transport, simply because infrastructure like bike lanes, pedestrian paths, high-speed trains, efficient trams, subways and buses are rather lacking. And there aren’t many walkable pavements in cities, let alone in old villages. So the car is Italians’ second home. 

READ ALSO: These are the most (and least) eco-friendly towns in Italy

There’s an historical reason for this, too. After the second world war, during the economic boom when Italy finally rose from the ashes of the defeat, owning a cinquecento or maggiolino was a status symbol. In the 1960s my father would squeeze eight friends into his cinquino and drive around all night, sharing the fuel cost. Then the car fad turned into a frenzy, and now it’s an obsession.

Iconic Italian car and motorbike models fuelled a post-war fad – which has become an obsession. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

Whenever I need to go somewhere far from my house I wish I could do the entire trip by public transport and ditch my car, so as to avoid having parking problems too. I remember once when I was at university there was this huge party near the Colosseum, I drove around for an hour looking for a parking spot and eventually I gave up, went back home really frustrated. 

Car sharing also is something totally foreign to Italians. You just need to look around in the morning at rush hour to see that there’s just one person per car, which is totally unsustainable climate-wise.

READ ALSO: Rome ‘among worst cities in Europe’ for road safety, traffic and pollution

Even in areas like Milan, where public transport is more efficient than in the southern regions, people still stick to their car or motorino which just proves how it’s a matter of mentality rather than of transport provision. 

On the other hand, if I want to visit Tuscany or Umbria from my house in Rome’s northern countryside, there aren’t even any direct connections.

My Italian millennial friends refuse to take a bus or tram to the gelateria a few blocks away from their home – the car is the rule, and they don’t care if they risk a fine for double parking, or parking in front of a building entrance. Forget walking, it just isn’t ‘done’.

Italy will soon invest some €600 million in projects aimed at improving bike and pedestrian lanes under initiatives funded by the PNRR, but the mindset of drivers must also modernize for all this money to be really effective. 

OPINION: Why cycling in Rome isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Italy needs an information campaign to raise awareness of environmental and health issues, and this must start inside schools and continue in college. Families also should educate kids to healthier transport modes, and stop buying those ‘micro cars’ when they’re 13 which don’t require a driver’s license. 

I often ask myself what it would take to get Italians – but also other nationalities – out of their cars, or off their noisy motorino with illegal upgrades that make a hell of a noise. Rising oil prices haven’t done the miracle in making car ownership unaffordable. 

Hiking car prices would kill the industry, so the only way is to give tax breaks or incentives to families who keep just one car and manage to share it, or raise taxes if each family member has one. 

Perhaps in a very remote future, interconnected green transport from the doorstep to the destination might be the solution, but at the moment that’s science fiction.

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Eight signs that spring has arrived in Italy

With warm temperatures across the entire country this week, spring has finally arrived in Italy. Besides the weather though, there’s further proof that 'primavera' is upon us.

Eight signs that spring has arrived in Italy

Aperitivo hour moves outdoors

Over the winter months, most people in Italy have their aperitivo – a hallowed combination of pre-dinner drinks and snacks – indoors.

As soon as temperatures rise above 15C, it’s game on for Italians as they rush to crowd the outdoor decks of their local bars straight after leaving work.

Can you blame them? Few things in life are as sweet as sipping on your favourite tipple while soaking up that golden late-afternoon sunlight.  

Motorini are back on the streets

Italians love scooters, not least because traffic can (and regularly does) get really bad in big cities and riding around on a slick two-wheeler can save you copious amounts of time. 

READ ALSO: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

For pretty obvious reasons, people avoid using their scooters during the cold months, but the motorcycles are swiftly pulled out of the garage as soon as the weather gets warmer. 

Vespa scooters

Italians love scooters and, as temperatures increase, so does the number of two-wheelers on the streets. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

And, as temperatures increase, so do the numbers of people whizzing down their city’s streets on jazzy Vespas.

Clothes get lighter and brighter

As the days get warmer and longer, people in Italy swap their heavy winter attire for their mezza stagione outfits. 

Italians are famously keen on fashion and most have an entire section of their wardrobe dedicated to mezza stagione (literally, ‘mid-season’) clothes, i.e. garments meant to be worn exclusively in spring or autumn. 

You’ll notice the change when walking around your area. From jean jackets and cotton twill blazers to floaty dresses and sandals, mezza stagione clothes are generally far more colourful and stylish than their gloomy winter counterparts. 

Gelato makes a reappearance

As temperatures get warmer by the day, Italians gradually rediscover one of their favourite weekend pastimes: the Sunday afternoon stroll with a gelato cone firmly wedged between their fingers. 

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

Italy is the land of artisanal ice cream and people just can’t get enough of the frozen treat. 

Gelato shop in Italy

Italy’s the land of artisanal ice cream and people just can’t get enough of it. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

But many prefer to have their ice cream ‘on the go’ rather than savouring it while seated. 

Some say walking helps them digerire meglio (‘better digest’) their ice cream, but the veracity of that theory is yet to be proven.

Spring cleaning begins

The start of pulizie di primavera (spring cleaning) is one of the most telling (and generally least-likeable) signs that spring has indeed arrived in the country. 

While it might not be that big of a deal in other countries, the task is somewhat of a ritual experience for Italians as they often set a whole weekend apart to thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of their homes and clear out unused stuff. 

READ ALSO: Eating well, driving badly, and daily naps: The habits you pick up in Italy

Should you happen to hear a racket coming from the Italian neighbours’ house from as early as 7am on a Sunday morning, you’ll know what’s up.

Artichokes arrive in the shops

Spring marks the return of the beloved carciofi – a staple of Italians’ spring-time diet – on supermarket shelves.

Italians can’t get enough of them, and the veggies are prepared, cooked and served in all sorts of ways (alla romana, alla giudia, stuffed, etc.). 


Artichokes are a staple of Italians’ spring-time diet. Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP

Artichokes are so popular in Italy that many locations around the country have entire festivals dedicated to them: Rome’s own carciofo festival is currently underway.

Warm days, chilly evenings

Most Italian regions enjoy good weather during the spring months.

But, while it may be fairly hot during the day (over 20C in some areas), evenings can be fairly chilly, with temperatures dropping below the 10-degree mark overnight.

READ ALSO: What to expect when travelling to Italy this spring

That’s why it’s advisable to always bring a warm jacket along if you’re planning on spending an evening out with family or friends.

Sunsets become more intense

Spring is one of the best seasons to watch a sunset in Italy, as the sunlight gives the sky unique shades of orange, red or indigo.

As the die-hard romanticoni they are, locals rarely miss a chance to catch the ‘magic hour’ and often choose to spend the moment in the company of their partners or friends.

Most Italians also have a favourite ‘sunset spot’ but that’s a secret they won’t give away easily.