Italian American Herald - June 2021
P. 1

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JUNE 2021
 Automobiles and trams jostle for space on a Milanese thoroughfare in a photo from around 1890. | COURTESY OF DIVANOMILANO.IT
Italian highway laws and the road to chaos
Differences in local customs could turn any trip into a bumper-car ride
By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo
It is a little-known fact that Italians once drove on the left side of the road. For visitors, driving in Italy is not always for the faint of heart. Even for Italians, driving in different areas was often a daunting task until national driving laws were set.
In Italy, driving on the right side of the road started around 1890 but not all regions followed this rule. In fact, until the national “Highway Code” came into force on June 30, 1912, a royal decree from 1740 allowed the rules of the road to be set by the individual provincial administrations and sometimes
also by the municipalities.
As a result, in each province or city there
could be a mandate to circulate on the left, on the right, or again on the left on some roads and on the right on others.
Or you circulated in the middle of the road and you had to give way to the vehicles you met by moving to the left or to the right. However, cities with a tram network could retain left-side driving if they placed warning signs at their city borders.
There was obviously great confusion for drivers who were not from the area. For example, in the center of Milan (within
the circle of the Bastions) they kept to the
left, but in the periphery, as in the whole province, they kept to the right. In Bergamo they kept to the left, but in Brescia the right. In Rome they kept to the left, in Vicenza they kept to the right, but in Verona to the left. In Ravenna they kept to the right, but along the road to Porto Corsini the rule of the left side was preserved to respect custom. Sometimes, in fact, the manner of driving followed local customs more than hard-and-fast rules. For example, carts pulled by animals, which had wheels with iron rims, were often moved toward the center of the road and cars were to pass on the right, while drivers passing another car could pass on the left.
The Mussolini government was the
first to take the unification of road traffic rules in Italy seriously. A 1923 decree set stricter driving standards, but Rome and the northern cities of Milan, Turin and Genoa could still mandate driving to the left until further orders from the Ministry of Public Works. By the mid-ˇ1920s, right-side driving finally became standard throughout the country. Rome made the change on March 1, 1925, and Milan on Aug. 3, 1926.
It is interesting to note that as early as 1922, a motorway was built in Italy, the
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Vol. 8 / No. 6

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