Guidare en Napoli, Uno Cento Uno

Or, Naples Driving 101, at least I think that is what that means. That is what I meant when I typed it.

“Cars in Naples are either dented, dinged, scraped or are potentially one of those.” J.J. O’Connor

I am on my ninth (I think) trip to Naples courtesy of your tax dollars (directed at those employed tax-paying Americans) via the US Navy, and on my trips, I have made several observations that I thought I would document to help anyone who is traveling to Naples (Italy, not Florida) prepare for driving while they are here.

These tips, although presented with an attempt at humor are indeed the way it is over here. Honestly, I wish I was kidding about some of it, but I am not, so here goes….

General Tips

If the front of a car near you is farther ahead than the front of your car, they have the right of way – That is probably not how it was intended but that is how it is. If you are slightly behind, be aware of traffic coming from anywhere on either side.

Said another way – Everyone behind or slightly behind you is responsible for your safety and you can drive however you want in relation to them. You are however responsible for the safety of everyone ahead of you and you have to do whatever it takes to protect them (stay out of their way) while driving. At least that is how it seems.

Things behind you are SO unimportant – I have looked for a switch to turn on the rear wiper of the car I am currently driving and can’t find one. I realized however that if I have the wipers on and put the car in reverse, the wiper comes on itself. Think about that, they figure you won’t need the rear wiper unless you are going backwards.

And speaking of going backwards – I had to go back into the rental place and ask about this one because I couldn’t figure it out. When trying to put a car in reverse there is a small gadget on the stick you need to pull up on to be able to engage reverse. I had never seen that on an American car.

And other things I hadn’t seen before – Check out this picture series regarding a car I had rented in Naples.

Neapolitans will not look when pulling out into traffic – Or, will look and pull out anyway.

When traveling alongside parked cars – where there is typically less than a foot between you and the parked cars, Neapolitans will attempt to get out of their cars the same way they pull into traffic, without looking. I almost had two doors just yesterday.

On and Off ramps, although designed to be one way, aren’t always used that way.

Signs and Signals

There are stop signs and red lights everywhere, but mostly for decoration – In most cases people cruise through lights and stop signs only slowing down a little. I found stopping does happen at crosswalks and really busy intersections, but don’t be surprised if you are honked at or even bumped (yes with the car) if you don’t go through the light or sign.

You will know exactly when the light turns green – And if you are at an intersection where people actually stop. You’ll know because there is only a nano second (or less) between the time the light turns green and someone behind you honks, really.

Directional signs – come in blue, green, white, brown and yellow. You will notice that the ones you are following will have the same color until a crucial turn on your route where split second decision making is imperative, and, the sign will be a different color so you will miss it. At this point you will make the wrong decision and go further out of your way.

And once you get used to the changing colors – you will once again come to a crucial turn where the same split second timing is critical, and, while looking for any kind of sign for guidance you will realize in a panic that there aren’t any at that point. You will, by the way, once again make the wrong decision.

Road Rage

There is no road rage in Naples – Oh sure, there appears to be road rage, but that is not road rage, that is just the way they drive.

Honking and flashing headlights is normal – Continuing on with that whole road rage thing people will flash their lights and honk. This is more of a ‘hey I’m here and I am coming your way’ then it is a ‘get out of my way.’ However, if you don’t react in a timely manner, it starts to become a ‘hey get out of my way.’

Traffic congestion is normal – However Neapolitans act like they are surprised when they get stuck in a traffic jam and one horn will quickly turn into a symphony of horns even though they know it won’t help (or maybe they think it will). I personally think it is a stress relief.

Drinking and Driving

Blood alcohol content is lower than you think – in fact, it is lower than in America, which is really strange for a country that has beer taps in some of their gas stations. You probably won’t want to drink and drive after experiencing the driving here anyway.

They aren’t drunk – I once read an informational poster on the ‘signs of a drunken driver’ and realized immediately that most of those ‘signs’ are typical Neapolitan driving habits. For example:

Extremely fast driving – nope, normal here. I have been going 110 kmh (around 70mph) and have been passed like I was standing still.

Extremely slow driving – nope again. Cars are small here, and alot of them are old. Some of the smaller engines and older cars have trouble on the roads and can’t keep up with the traffic.

Straddling the lanes – This is not drunk either, this is positioning so that they can easily switch to the lane that is moving faster.

Traffic Jams

Traffic jams are like a bucket of stones with water poured into it – Oncoming traffic (the water) will fill every available space between the stones (the cars in the traffic jam). This also applies to traffic circles (rotaries, roundabouts etc.. depending on where you are from) and parking lots.

And keeping with that bucket of stones analogy, also note that;

Actual width of a 3 lane highway – 6 cars wide.

Actual width of an off ramp – 2 cars and 2 scooters wide.

Less than half an inch clearance on either side – is still enough for someone to try to move into a space in traffic.

They do understand the lack of space however – Neapolitans will often reach out and fold back their side view mirrors to give their cars a little more ‘breathing room’.

An estimate of Neapolitans who are NOT fast mirror folders – 30 – 40 % based on observation of missing, hanging or otherwise damaged side view mirrors.


They are everywhere – and the car to scooter ratio changes depending on where you are driving. Highway, higher, in town, lower. In other words, there are a lot more of them in town where you have less room to maneuver.

They do not appear to be constrained to the normal traffic flow – I have seen not only cross traffic flow but also against the traffic.

Omnidirectional travel is not limited to the streets – but also takes place on medians and sidewalks.

The rule(observation) about you having the right of way if you are slightly ahead – the one I mentioned near the top of this page, DOES NOT apply to scooters. In fact, I don’t think there are rules that apply to scooters.

In addition to the rider – a scooter can carry (I know because I have seen it), a family of four, plumbing supplies and dining room furniture.

They are probably one of the leading causes of side view mirror damage.


Most of the cars in Naples are manual transmissions – you can get an automatic but it might be a little more difficult to find and a little more expensive.

Size doesn’t matter – the average car here is along the lines of an American compact OR SMALLER.

Road Quality

It will fit – The width of roads I have traveled on go from just wide enough for a compact car, with mirrors folded to 4 lane highways. Point being, try to plan ahead because there are more of those smaller roads than you might imagine.

Naples, especially Pozzouli, is probably the pothole capital of the world – at least of the places I have visited. Highways are generally pretty good here but local streets are poorly maintained and could very well be centuries old cobble and stone roads worn from years of use. Cobblestones it seems are not often replaced. Worse however appear to be the roads that are asphalt over cobblestone where settling and deterioration has occurred. It’s really bad around the port in Pozzouli.

Slippery when wet – I have been told that the material used to pave the highways is very oily and when it rains, this oil seeps to the surface causing extremely slippery roads. I have heard this, but have also experienced enough rainy driving here to believe it.

When it rains, it stays – To add to the rain trouble, it doesn’t appear that the roads where built to accommodate runoff very well and huge puddles of standing water occur not only on the sides, but also in the middle of the highway causing hydroplaning. Hydroplaning on oily water, not fun.


Yes, I said crime. Unemployment is high here and petty crime is too. There are a number of things to be aware of regarding crime as you drive around the area:

Take your keys – even if you get out of your car for 10 seconds to open a gate. Your car could get stolen that fast.

On the road – keep your doors locked and windows up. Scooters are notorious for pulling alongside and grabbing items off seats from open windows when the traffic is snarled.

At the pumps – there are a bunch of scams to take your money. For example:

Pouring gas into a bucket – next to your car instead of into your car.

Not resetting the pump – before they start pumping so they start somewhere above zero. It seems like they give you what you asked for but in reality they give you that minus wherever the pump started. They still get all your money.

Watering down the gasoline.

Paying the price at the toll – This one happened to me just yesterday. Paid a toll of .65 Euro cents with a 5 Euro note. The toll man gave me a bunch of change instead a just a few euro coins, to much to count right then and there considering the pace of traffic. When I did get a chance, I realized he shorted me 1 Euro. Might have been an accident, but its worth double checking before you leave the booth.

All that being said…

I have had some great fun driving in Naples and it is one of the things (other than the food) I look forward to on my trips. Be alert, be patient and stay sober and you will not only do fine but have some stories you can tell for a long time.


2 replies
  1. Sue Straka
    Sue Straka says:

    And let’s not forget that Italians think that sidewalks are appropriate plces to park in a pinch. Everyone does it and no one gets tagged.

    Speaking of sidewalks, and I did not make this up – I read it in Town and Country Magazine, one doyenne who prefers to remain unnamed said: “It’s not spring in Palm Beach until Ted drives down the sidewalk”.
    :-)) I prefer to hear him screaming to Boston’s finest: “I will NOT drive between the lines!”.

    Mike, I want to go to the Italian Rivera (Hotel Splendido) and see the Cinque Terre. I think I would like living in Italy, but France better. Italians have even funkier plumbing than the French. And, if I got sick of you, I could go over and see Johnny Depp.:-)) Are you sold on `Tuscany? I was thinking of Michigan City just for me – I never thought I’d ever have a companion. John refuses to go anywhere or travel or anything, so the few trips I’ve had, I’d had to take alone. But I’m cool with Italy – with periodic trips to The States – and of course, the UK!!!

  2. Sue Straka
    Sue Straka says:

    Driving in Britain

    Thefirst time I did it, I was with Becki, one of my best girlfriends who had been beaten bloody by her later husband (he got help, and adores her). I made a lot of money waitressing in law school, so I paid for her trip.

    The whole right hand drive thing is initially hard to get used to. And I was doing it with a stick shift. When my husband taught me to drive a stick, I thought he’d have a heart attack from screaming so loud at me. Now rental cars come with automatics so it’s not a big deal, but I can’t smoke and drive at the same time.

    The best thing the English ever gave us was roundabouts (here, rotarys) but we f*** them up with traffic lights, which completely defeats the purpose of the roundabout. DC is a perfect example.

    The first one I negotiated was in central London – like Picadilly Circus I think. I completely understand Chevy Chase’s screaming “I can’t get left! I can’t get left!” in European Vacation. Becki was a champ, though.

    Later about the roads that turn into wagon lanes and you come head on with a tour bus….


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