Friday, August 17

Driver's Ed in Italy: Your Handbook to Recklessness

It seems that almost everyone I know has finally buckled down, or, perhaps I should say, capitulated to facing the last great bastion of bureaucracy, after the id cards have been issued, the health certificates passed with flying colors, the social security numbers registered with authorities.  The Driver's Ed Test.  The very idea of facing the ESAME = Exam shakes the souls of lesser men.  You can read more about one expat's typical experience here.
But, what is the cause for concern?  Most of my friends have been driving for thirty or forty years.  Basically, the USA refuses to recognize Italian driver's licenses (after all, these are the guys who gave us the Ferrari, the greatest vehicles with the most outstanding drivers on earth...) - I think it's an extreme case of sour grapes - so Italy won't recognize ours (rightfully so).  We are then left to go through 'the system' in order to put the pedal to the metal and legally hit the roads.  Too bad that both countries happily accept drivers from places like, oh, inner Sudan or the Maldives - which I don't even think have cars on the roads.
But, the more you hear about the trials and tribulations of achieving your driver license, the more incredulous you become every single day that you happen to be in traffic.  As cars veer into your lane, a guy sends text messages at 100 mph, no one signals, and babies are carried on front seat laps, it's as if everyone crams for the exam, only to forget every single thing they were so preoccupied with learning after about 34 minutes.  And, judging from what it is I truly remember in college, I think this theory may hold a whole lot of aqua.
You not only have to cram for the oral exam, but you also need to pass the driving test as well.  Rightly so, you need to be able to regurgitate the speed limits for any kind of road (something that I do not know), understand who gets the right of way at most every type of intersection, and of course, put on your seat belt the moment you get inside the vehicle or it's an automatic fail.  Judging from the traffic patterns, I think the test is easy:  speed limits are whatever you can do without hitting the car in front of you, intersections are for rushing into even if it's a red light, and seat belts are for sissies.  But friends tell me that you must also know all the parts of the motor, how to change a tire, and various mechanical things as well.
You know that women pass that test with flying colors since in every roadside emergency, they are the first to tap out the road service phone number to come a running.  Why all this acumen goes flying out the window once they actually get behind the wheel is one of those mysteries of life right up there with the immaculate conception.  It doesn't matter, compared to the USA, Italians really must know their cars inside and out.
But I got a big kick out of a friend's story of his experience getting his license in the USA.  The questions are written, there are like 10 of them, and, along with the driving test the entire operation takes under an hour.  He said he was licensed to drive in Italy:  a car, a truck, large vehicles, a tank, and his own private plane.  On top of that, he had the best experience that anyone could ask for: He was from Naples.  Arriving at the exam, and meeting the 90 year old instructor, he decided to be prudent.  He utterly failed his driving test.  I believe it was a first in the annals of driver's tests.
The reason?  He went too far under the speed limit.  Turns out he averaged about 25mph in a 35mph zone.  Next time, he thought, he better put his Neapolitan skills to the test, instead.
Just as long as he doesn't try to steer cruise ships, like his fellow paesano, Captain Stecchino.

For more on driving in Italy (from my Travel Tips Page on the blog), click these links:

Deciphering street signs in Italy
Driving at night in Italy 
Getting a driver's license in Italy

1 comment:

Eurasleep said...

I'm proud to say that as an American with 25+ years of driving experience, I did have to go through the whole process of getting an Italian license, and it was a LOOONG, expensive, and very aggravating process. I had to take the written exam in Italian (they no longer offer the exam in English, since the translation was so bad they said...), so not only did I have to learn Italian at the same time as studying for the test, I then had to go through the medical tests, about $800 in fees, behind the wheel lessons (more about how to drive the way the inspector expects you to drive and not how the laws are written). Happily I passed both the written and the driving tests, but I forewarn any American who thinks it's easy: it's NOT. And yes, the material for the written exam is tough. It took me 6 months to memorize it all. This was 4 months ago and I've already forgotten most of everything I studied. I must be becoming more Italian every day...!