Random Carabinieri Checks – Be Prepared

It finally happened to me––a random roadside check by the Carabinieri.

And thank goodness my driver’s license and car documents were in order. For months I’d be cruising past the Carabinieri random checks. Would they choose me and put out the dreaded red paddle in my path, signaling me to pull over for their inquiry? I’d passed so many of these stops in the last few months, without getting pulled over, that I knew I was well outside the law of averages and my time would soon come.

It’s crazy how my heart would race, passing these stops, even though I knew I had absolutely nothing to fear. And, just a few days ago, when the Carabinieri did indeed motion for me to pull over, I was nervous. Why? Well, it was my first time going through this type of check and actually, I was driving a loaner car from the car dealership while my revisione/inspection (more about that in next week’s post) was being done on my car. Would the loaner car’s libretto (car registration) be in order? Was the insurance up to date?

Carabinieri are thorough.

At least these guys were. Up-to-date libretto? Check. Up-to-date revisione? Check. Valid insurance and valid driver’s license? Check, check.

These latter two things were confirmed once the Carabinieri had taken the car libretto and my driver’s license back to their car to check through their system.

But here’s where a new resident of Italy really needs to be prepared––questions about your specific living situation in Italy. If you have been living as a resident in Italy for more than a year you’d better have an Italian driver’s license. Otherwise, your car can be seized on the spot and you could face onerous consequences for not complying with the law.

For me, I was proud to present my Italian driver’s license for which I’d labored so long and hard to obtain. Then, the officer quizzed me about where I was registered as a resident, asking me to spout off my exact home address. With this information in hand, he walked away to confirm all I had told him. Within a couple of minutes, he was back, smiling and thanking me, and sending me on my way.

Their quota for pulling over a certain number of vehicles had been completed and they could head off for lunch .These fellas couldn’t have been nicer. So there’s no reason to fear an uncomfortable interrogation––unless you are trying to skirt the system.

Don’t attempt to live in Italy long-term without getting your Italian driver’s license.

I can’t tell you how many people have asked me about a “workaround” to being required to have the Italian driver’s license. Many people DO get away with this, primarily by hiding the fact that they’re an Italian resident and just showing their American passport and their valid U.S. driver’s license (and often times an International license). But if the Carabinieri look closely at your passport and they see that you’ve been in Italy for a long time, they’re going to get suspicious and start asking questions.

Also, if the car you’re driving is registered in your name, that’s a dead giveaway that you’re a resident, since you can’t own a car unless you’re a resident. You don’t want to be doing this anyway, owning a car and driving without an Italian driver’s license if you’ve been a resident more than a year. Why? Any car insurance you might have purchased is null and void if you’re outside the law in this regard.

Some people try to dodge this by driving someone else’s car. But the problem can become more far-reaching. If you’re involved in an accident, driving someone else’s car (or your own), and you’re found to be driving unlawfully in Italy, the liability spreads to the owner of the car. This includes financial and criminal liabilities.

What sane person would want to take this risk? I wouldn’t. And this is why I never encourage people to put off getting their Italian driver’s license, and why I would NEVER lend my car to an Italian resident without them being in possession of a valid Italian license.

Believe me, I understand the desire to avoid the requirements of getting an Italian driver’s license. It’s one of the more difficult pieces of assimilating to life here. The only way I’d suggest of avoiding this is to give up driving in Italy altogether. I’m actually hoping to ditch my car in a few years and become a more frequent traveler by train. But I’m not quite ready to clip my driving wings. All in good time…

So, my recent random stop by the Carabinieri is what prompted me to write this post with greater urgency. I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I am well within the law, and my car documents and inspections are up to snuff. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the Carabinieri do seem to be stepping up their efforts to make sure people are driving legally. I’d hate to see anyone living here or planning to live here caught unawares! Prepare accordingly.






By |2019-01-19T21:53:56+01:00October 3rd, 2017|Driving in Italy|16 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. bill October 6, 2017 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    Driving in Italy I’m familiar with, but checkpoints not so much. I learned how to drive in Rome while attending high school in the 70’s. For years I drove all around Rome in a real cinquecento without even a GPS. It was…..challenging for a 16 yr. old, but not impossible to master. The Italians view driving as a sport or an art form. They have driving customs and traditions that are all taken very seriously. And they learned them at a young age. If you’re headed up a one way street, they’ll be very eager to point this out, in a friendly manner typically. But, if you don’t follow their traditions and customs, be prepared for some tongue lashings. One thing you do not do, is travel in the show off lane (left lane), of an autostrada just poodling along. You’ll get run over, the paint on the rear of your car will be burned off from their incessant headlight blinking, and your ears will hurt from the horn honking. You’ll get some hand gesture too. No, it’s not the Texas hook em horns salute! You could be driving along and come to an intersection that you have the right of way. Cross traffic has a stop sign. As you approach the intersection, even though they have a stop sign they will come to a stop half way into the intersection (if you keep going, which is traditional and customary), they will stay put, but if you even so much as flinch, they’ll dart out in front of you. Now, if you stop, cars behind you don’t expect this as it’s not customary, so….guess what can happen?

    They key in my opinion is to drive very defensively. Look twice, and watch the road signs. I’m still getting tickets sent to me from a year ago when we drove all over Italy for 6 weeks. Yes, we drove into a ZTL area which is a limited access area. This is usually an inner city area where they don’t want cars at certain times of the day. They have cameras that take your picture. Someone must review every car and and it’s license plate then they send out tickets to the offenders. Takes a year to get the ticket but the rental car folks will bill their fee within months of the infraction.

    Just be very very attentive and try to learn their moves. The real bottom line is that driving in Italy is like dancing. The other cars are your dance partner. So, timing and movement are crucial for a smooth dance,with no one stepping on the other’s toes. It’s actually quiet fun when you get into it. I’ts a sport remember.

    • Jed October 6, 2017 at 10:32 pm - Reply

      Hi, Bill. Grazie mille for adding so richly to the topic of driving in Italy. I don’t think I could have expressed the “dance” any better than you have. When I was in driving school, I asked myself many times why I had to learn so many rules when I saw them being broken so frequently in reality. Once you know the real rules of the road, and abide by them, driving becomes way less stressful. Jed

  2. Debra October 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Hi, Jed
    Thanks again for sharing such priceless information! I will be driving from Rome to Sulmona on Tuesday (yey!) and is there anything special I should know about the toll roads?
    Buon giornata, Jed

    • Jed October 6, 2017 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Hi, Debra. I’m glad you found the information useful. The toll roads are pretty simple to navigate. Just make sure you stop to take your ticket. Many years ago, my sister, who wasn’t familiar with driving in Italy, drove right up to the gate (which surprisingly was open) and didn’t see the ticket sticking out, so she just drove through. There is always a button to push if the ticket isn’t already out. If that doesn’t work, push the call button. Just never drive on a toll road without a ticket. If you don’t have it, you can run into all sorts of problems, which include getting a fine much later (the rental car agencies will eventually forward the ticket to you in the States, and this can come a year later) and/or trying to get off the toll road at a station where there is no attendant. BUT I assure you this kind of thing almost never happens. Fortunately for my sister, she spoke to someone at the departure exit, and told him where’s she’d gotten on and he charged her appropriately.

      Just make sure your route out of Rome takes you on one of the roads taking you around the city!

  3. Robert Crivellone October 4, 2017 at 12:30 am - Reply

    Hi Jed,
    Good info thanks.
    Can you tell me about driving in Italy, I read so much about how crazy the driving is there. It’s made to seem a person might not be able to cope, is it overblown? There’s lots of places in the states with reckless or angry drivers, is it so much worse?
    I’ve driven a lot in Manhattan and LA, I am an older driver who is looking to slow down. I’ll be living in Italy in a couple more years with hopes of driving around Europe, what should I expect?

    • Jed October 4, 2017 at 2:20 pm - Reply

      Hi, Robert. You ask an important question. The answer isn’t so easy, however. In most places in Italy, you CAN drive without feeling stressed out. That is if you can get used to the people racing up behind you, a little too close for comfort, on the autostrada. This happens all over Italy and it’s pretty standard behavior even though it seems a bit aggressive. Think of it as an accepted form of highway communication that tells you “Hey, you’re going much slower than me. Move over.” This often comes with flashing lights. Yes, these drivers (mostly male drivers) get a little too close for comfort. AndI always get out of the way when I can do so safely. People who are prone to road rage might respond angrily. I suspect that I’m like you, a peaceful driver who just wants to be safe!
      There are places where I don’t advise driving. We kept an apt in Rome for a brief period of time, and I can tell you the stress level I experienced driving in Rome took years off my life. Often times it’s “every man for himself” on the streets and there was one time in traffic that I witnessed cars refusing to get out of the way for an approaching ambulance. That’s why I opted for using the train to get in and out of the city whenever possible (leaving my car at the train station in Umbria). Areas in Southern Italy can be a bit dicey. Take Sicily. If you get upset seeing people seize the right of way or be really loose with the road rules, then driving there might also be something you’d want to avoid. I’ve been cautioned, by Italians, to be very careful in Sicily and to not do anything to risk a confrontation with another driver. Heeding that caution driving in Sicily isn’t bad.
      All that aside, I don’t think it’s scary to drive in Italy. Just know the road rules, understand certain driving behaviors, and you’ll be fine. Hope this helps!

  4. Leigh McLaughlin October 3, 2017 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    thanks for this info – very useful!!

  5. Chuck Booksh October 3, 2017 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Jed, you just can’t beat doing things the right way! I am enjoying reading your post after all these years. I have your recently posted painting, “the blue chairs” on my desktop at work… beautiful! Have been watching a great Italian tv show called “De Paradiso Ille Signourey”. excuse the spelling.
    Take care!

    • Jed October 4, 2017 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      You’re so right, Chuck. While it can be a pain to go through the long, involved process of getting the Italian driver’s license, there’s nothing like the peace of mind that comes with being on the up-and-up! I’ll definitely check out the Italian tv show you mentioned. And, I am so honored that you liked my recent painting so much to have made it your desktop. Hopefully, it transports you and brings you a sense of peace at times of stress!

  6. royane mosley October 3, 2017 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    We have been pulled over twice . Once last summer when my husband turned left where he shouldn’t have, and the second just a few days ago The first time the police office was rude and scowled and tried to tell us what we did wrong..we seriously didn’t understand what we had done until we went back that way….but he just screamed at us “penality…penality” as he was pointing his finger to the street. We were scared, but then he just said ” go go”…so now it has become a funny story. This last stop was the kind your post talked about. But this time. the police office was so excited to see we were Americans he laughed and called his partner over to shake our hands..and said “have a nice day” without checking anything. I love Italy.

    • Jed October 4, 2017 at 2:04 pm - Reply

      Ciao, Royane. Thanks for writing and sharing your experiences. For sure experiences vary wildly here. You saw two ends of the spectrum. I do think the police get a little cranky with perceived “foreigners’ who break the traffic rules. I’m glad you pointed our traffic violations since this can be yet another situation when having valid driving documents is essential.
      I love that you had such a happy experience with carabinieri who were so excited to come across some Americans!

  7. Bill October 3, 2017 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    What sounds familiar? The checkpoints themselves, or the difference in their locations?

    • Jed October 3, 2017 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      This is my friend who happened to be a passenger in my car during the carabinieri stop!

  8. Bill October 3, 2017 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Good info. Have been all over Southern italy this summer and last including sicilia , and never saw one checkpoint. Maybe it’s more common in the north of italy?

    • Jed October 3, 2017 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      Hi, Bill, It’s certainly a possibility that certain regions are not as vigilant. I’ve witnessed this in both Umbria and Veneto with increasing frequency. It’s great that you haven’t seen this so much in southern Italy. I still advise people, wherever they live to still be prepared – especially in case of an accident!

  9. Kit Williams October 3, 2017 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    This sounds so very familiar…

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