Driving a scooter in Italy

Ride a Vespa in Italy
Ride a Vespa in Italy, just like Hepburn and Peck in Roman Holiday.

It's a classic way to get around in Italy: by motorino (scooter) or Vespa

Feel the wind in your hair. Weave in and out of traffic. Get around far faster than walking but far more cheaply than with a car. Go all day on a cupful of gas. Make daytripping to outlying or nearby sights easy. Feel just a smidge like Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck from that classic scene in Roman Holiday.

Yes, there are many reasons to mount a motorino in Italy—just be smart about it.

Remember: The rules and norms of driving are much different from our own.

On smart scootering

Useful Italian
scooter - motorino or scooter
rental - noleggio
two hours - due ore
one day - un giorno
helmet - casco
Full story
Everyone will tell you never to rent a scooter in Italy. They say motorini are too dangerous, too unstable, too unpredictable, and the surrounding traffic is too insane.

They say you'll inevitably get into an accident and return home with, if you're lucky, an ugly road rash from skidding through gravel in your shorts at 30mph (and, if you're unlucky, a cracked skull).

Poppycock. I rent scooters in Italy all the time and the worst injury I've ever suffered was a bent-back thumbnail once when I misjudged flicking the start button.

The real issue is that people don't treat scooters with respect. They're just too cute: like baby motorcycles, or bikes pretending to be grown-ups with an engine and everything. Aww. Plus, they're just so much darn fun!

As a result, many people drive around, without a helmet, at high speeds.

They rubberneck the sights, chat with their companion behind them, or sit there texting with one hand and steering with the other.

That's just dumb.

Remember: a scooter is essentially an undersized, underpowered, under-stabilized motorcycle.

It's not so much that scooters are dangerous as it is tourists are stupid. (Not people: tourists. People who are perfectly sane, rational, and responsible at home often transform into giddy idiots after just a few hours on an exciting, exotic, sun-drenched vacation.)

Scooters also fool you into thinking you can join the cars racing all around as if an equal. You are not equal. You are perched precariously atop a tiny scrap of metal and plastic with wheels. The drivers of the cars are cocooned in a protective metal shell padded by airbags and such.

If you get hit by a car, you'll be road kill; they'll probably just think they hit a bad pothole.

Yes, scooters are dangerous—though not much more so than walking—and yes the traffic in Italy is atrocious, doubling the danger, so take some "Sensible scootering" precautions:

Tips & links

Sensible scootering
  • Wear a helmet (casco).
  • Stay off major roads.
  • Drive cautiously.
  • Obey all traffic signs.
  • Keep your eyes on the road and on the surrounding traffic, not the sights.
  • Don't weave in and out of heavy traffic or jump-start a red light before it turns green.

In other words: do no, under any circumstances, drive like the locals, who are used to the traffic rules and have been riding a motorino since the age of 14.

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