And you’d best prepare yourself.
I first wrote about Italian crosswalks seven years ago (read it here). It was from the perspective of the pedestrian, but I’ve come to understand that danger lurks for drivers as well. That’s why I feel compelled to provide a bit of an update with some advice.
“Respect” for Italian crosswalks varies significantly across Italy.
As for drivers, there are many parts of Italy, many cities, where you will get the sense that drivers resent the presence of pedestrian crossings. You know, like the road only belongs to those behind the wheel of a vehicle. Everyone else is an interloper. Rome is a prime example (at least for me). When we kept an apartment there, I didn’t witness a lot of on-the-road behavior of drivers slowing down when approaching a crosswalk. And this is why, in my subsequent comments, I address the attitudes and attentiveness of pedestrians as well.
Sorry to pick on the Eternal City, but it is a good poster child all around for how NOT to navigate the roads of the city. Yes, technically you’re beholding to the rules stated in the driving handbook (a post on that here), but to me, it seems that the overarching rule in Rome is every man or woman for themself. That’s why I’ve sworn I will never ever drive again in Rome.
But, let’s get back to Italian crosswalks…
In Rome, as a person crossing the street, I felt as though I always had to secure the gaze of an oncoming driver before daring to put a foot into the crossing. This was to ascertain that 1) I had been seen and 2) The driver was actually starting to slow down. I witnessed many drivers 1) Ignoring me completely (often accelerating instead) and 2) Being engrossed in calls on their cellphones (yes, that’s a big infraction with copious point deductions, but what the hell).
Advice for pedestrians:
1. Never ever assume that drivers will give you the right of way because you are either in or about to enter an Italian crosswalk.
Yes, this is universal wisdom that applies all over the world. But in many countries, there is healthier respect for pedestrian crossings. In such countries, people have become habituated to being attentive in the right ways. But, in my opinion, and experience, Italy isn’t there yet.
Some people, as a matter of pride (or claiming what is rightfully theirs by law) just barrel into an Italian crosswalk without any “pre-checks.” Such people are putting themselves in harm’s way.
2. Be sure to ascertain (to your best ability) an oncoming driver’s awareness of you and their willingness (and ability) to slow down without causing a traffic accident.
I’m becoming more attuned to this now that I better understand this unspoken visual ritual between pedestrians and drivers. Where we live, most drivers do slow down and allow us to cross. But still there are drivers who approach crosswalks with substantial speed and unawareness (actual or purposeful). Continued vigilance is essential.
3. ALWAYS look both ways!
You’re probably thinking that I sound like your mother when you were a child. Still, this bears repeating because of the required attention to the above-mentioned point. I’ve had times when I secured my way forward in the lane closest to me and stepped into the crosswalk only to find myself stranded in the middle.
Advice for drivers:
1. Respect and become attuned to the presence of Italian crosswalks.
This should be a no-brainer that would prevent accidents and save lives. A few years ago I was rear-ended when I slowed down (no, I didn’t slam on my brakes) to allow a pedestrian to cross. Had the other driver been looking ahead and alert to the crosswalk, perhaps I wouldn’t have had my ordeal (read about it in Eight Tips for Dealing with a Car Accident in Italy).
2. Be on the lookout for people who proudly step into a crosswalk without warning or hesitation.
It happens a lot. And it happens when there is a column or obstacle obscuring a driver’s view of the entrance to the pedestrian crossing. In our town, there are several places where people seem to materialize out of nowhere. Often these people are talking or texting on their phones or looking straight ahead without the slightest glance at the state of oncoming traffic.
You don’t want to strike a pedestrian with your car and then compound your troubles with a criminal offense (possible murder), do you?
So, my friends, that’s my advice for dealing with Italian crosswalks, both from the perspective of a pedestrian and a driver!