Driving in Southern Italy is challenging and exciting. It requires me to be on my toes, constantly ready to react. It stresses Diane out. I’ve written previously about driving in Europe, but driving near Naples takes this to another level and is not for the faint of heart. Here are some of the challenges we face…
Most people here drive small, maneuverable cars much faster than the posted speed limit. They rarely stay in their own lane, often spanning two lanes or crossing into an oncoming one. They pass whenever possible, even on hills or blind corners when it seems unsafe to do so, expecting that the oncoming cars will make way.
Some of this erratic driving is necessitated by parked vehicles blocking the roadway. Despite the fact that the cars are generally small, the parking spaces are even smaller, and people frequently exceed the boundaries. They will park wherever possible, including on sidewalks, at corners, and in crosswalks. They will park nose-in to a parallel parking place, with their tail hanging out in the street. The drivers of parked cars often open their doors without looking, requiring one to be constantly on the lookout for motion in parked cars. They will often double park (parking in the street beside cars that are parallel parked) as if putting their 4-way emergency flashing lights on magically turns wherever they happen to be into a legitimate parking spot. Sometimes I’ve seen them triple park, blocking not only one lane, but part of the oncoming lane too!
Most shocking is a peculiar practice in Naples where drivers will shop from their cars. They stop in front of a small store, usually double-parked, and honk their horns. The shopkeeper will emerge, get their order and their money, then disappear into the store to return a minute later with their purchase and their change. This is happening while other cars stack up behind or attempt to pass, without any apparent concern for them, as if this is completely normal (well, I guess it is in Naples).
If the cars are bad, the motorcycles and scooters are worse. The majority of them are scooters (a lot of Vespas but now many Asian manufacturers too), so I’ll refer to them all as ‘scooters’. Lane splitting by this plague on wheels is normal. They drive between the other cars, passing on the left and right while traffic is moving, on blind corners, and in busy intersections. At stop lights they worm their way to the head of the line, often performing major acrobatics to get to the front, or as close to it as possible, wedged in between the other cars and/or the curb. When the light turns green, they race off ahead (they’re quick off the line), but they sometimes get passed again if the roadway has a higher speed limit, in which case they repeat the procedure at the next light.
Crazy scooter driving was commonplace in Asia, but I wasn’t behind the wheel there. It’s much more exciting when one is in the thick of it. A particularly shocking example we’ve seen was a man driving his scooter with a very young child, perhaps 3 years old, standing between his legs while he drove. The child wasn’t wearing a helmet, wasn’t secured, and appeared to barely be old enough to hang on to. The child wasn’t tall enough to reach the handlebars, even while standing, so was holding on to something lower, behind the front console.
On the other hand, we did receive a very nice favour from a scooter driver. A scooter behind us started honking and drive up beside me so I slowed down and eventually stopped. The driver reached over and gave me my swim goggles, which I’d forgotten to bring in off the rear rack of our camper where they’d been clipped with a clothes pin to dry. Although she didn’t speak English, she must have seen them fall off while we were driving, retrieved them in the middle of this crazy traffic (at no small risk to herself), and then chased us down to return them. Perhaps scooters are good for something after all?