If you are planning to visit Tuscany and explore its roundabouts, then do make sure you either get here by car or rent one because you won’t find any trains and buses in many areas in Tuscany. Now that you got yourself in the beautiful Italian region that can leave you in awe with every step you take, time to talk about some must-know facts before you start driving in Tuscany (or any other part of Italy, to be frank).
Speed Limits & Use of Head Lights
Don’t expect to find as many road signs to remind you of the speed limit on Italian roads as there are in the US or the UK. You will come across relevant signs whenever the speed limits change, like, for example, when entering a town or along a regional road. However, if you know the basic rules regarding the speed limits, you will be just fine. Here is what information to bear in mind:
- The speed limit in town is 50km/hr.
- If you are near a school, you need to slow down, even if there is no sign telling you to do so (there usually is not).
- Most city streets are quite narrow, so you will be forced to go down them at a slower (and safer) speed than 50km/hr.
- Look for the sign below to know when the 50km/hr maximum speed limit ends.
- The speed limit on secondary roads is 70km/hr, though. This can rise to 90km/hr in some areas, especially straight roads (usually two-lane), like the Firenze-Siena superstrada* and the Fi-Pi-Li (or SGC highway that connects Livorno, Pisa, and Florence) road.
- The speed limit on autostrade (motorways) ranges between 110km/hr to 130km/hr.
- Remember to always turn on your headlights when you leave the city, even if it is daylight, whether you drive a car or motorcycle.
- Do not try to keep up with the traffic around you. Italians tend to drive really fast and quite aggressively. This does not mean that they lack the ability to react and stop quickly when they have to, though. Instead, pay attention to your speed because there are many speed camera controls all around Tuscany and cameras that will take a picture of your vehicle and its license plate if you go over the speed limit. Rest assured, you WILL receive a speeding ticket from the Italian police even if it takes them months to track you down.
* A suprestrada or Type B highway is a not-tolled expressway that is divided with two lanes in each direction (or even more). It has no at-grade and no cross-traffic intersections and also has a paved shoulder on the right. The signage here comes with a blue background rather than green, which is customary in autostrade (toll roads).
The main roads can get quite congested when Italians go to work or return home from work. In particular, expect lots of traffic on both the superstrada and the autostrade between Siena and Florence (aka the Firenze-Siena superstrada). It is best to avoid these roads between the start of the business day (around 7-9am) and the end of it (between 5-7pm).
Basic Traffic & Road Signs
The four distinctive types of road signs in Tuscany are as follows:
- Blue signs – You will find them on main roads and will indicate the direction you need to drive (i.e., turn right, pass either side, etc.).
- Green signs – These are placed in autostrade (major roads), which usually come with tolls.
- Parking spaces – These are usually square signs demonstrating a capital (white) P on a blue background.
- No Parking signs – They warn you that your car will be towed if you park there. Note the difference between a No Parking (to the left on the image below) and a No Stopping sign (to the right). The latter is even stricter than the No Parking signage as it warns that you cannot park there, not even temporarily (i.e., you remain inside the vehicle).
The Zona Traffico Limitatato (ZTL) – Driving in the historical center
In most cities, including Florence and Siena, driving in the historical center is forbidden or restricted. In these cases, it is best to park your car in a parking lot or a designated metered area (look for the Parking Spaces sign mentioned above). Now, if you move slightly further away from the city center, you may even find free street parking spaces available. Do resist the temptation to follow other vehicles because chances are you will be entering roads where locals have permits to drive to, like inside the ZTL.
Important note: Never leave your belongings inside your car when you go out there sightseeing, even if you will be away for a few minutes. You may find your vehicle broken into in broad daylight because of the bag you had left in there.
- If you are about to enter a roundabout (aka rotunda or traffic circle), remember that those already in it have the right of way, especially if you see a sign that shows an inverted triangle. Slow down as you approach the roundabout and try to inch your way into it because it is highly unlikely other cars entering the roundabout from a different entrance will slow down for you.
- Gasoline or petrol (benzina in Italian) is quite expensive, with stations across the autostrade being slightly more costly than those located around cities. However, they are also the ones open 24 hours a day as opposed to other gas stations that are usually closed between 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm and from 7:00 pm until 7:00 am. You may, nevertheless, find self-service pumps in closed stations (they accept credit/debit cards or banknotes).
- In case of an emergency, accident, or breakdown, call 116 (the Automobile Club d’Italia or ACI) to receive roadside assistance. Just ensure you have the right insurance. You could also call the Fire Department (115), the Ambulance (118), or the Police (113) if you are facing a more serious problem.
- Call 1518 for traffic information (24/7).
- If you will be visiting Tuscany between November and April, make sure your car either has snow tires or carries snow chains (required by law).