Friday, April 21, 2017

Driving in Italy: Car Rental Information & Tips

Driving Overview

Highway Information

Italy has an excellent network of roads and highways that is one of the most extensive in Europe, comprising nearly 4000mi/6400km of express highways and 180,000mi/288,000km of secondary roads. The country's famous super highways or 'autostrade' ('autostrada' is the singular form) run the length and breadth of the peninsula. These toll roads are supported by an excellent network of secondary roads, classified into different categories of national highways ('strade statali'), provincial roads ('strade provinciali') and municipal roads ('strade communali'). Due to the success of companies like Fiat, Italians have a high level of car ownership. This can create congestion in some of the northern areas and in cities. But in southern parts of the country, the roads are less crowded.


Rules of the Road
When driving your rental car in Italy, it is nice to know traffic travels on the right, similar to the US. If you are stopped for a traffic violation, police are empowered to collect fines on the spot making it necessary to keep cash on hand. More information about driving in Italy can be found below or in our Italy Travel Guide.

Gas
Gas stations are open from 7 am to 12:30 pm and from 3:30 pm to 7 pm. Most stations are closed on Sundays. There are 24-hour stations along the highways.

Tolls
The 'autostrade' is Italy's toll superhighway and toll cards can be purchased at banks or at Automobile Club d'Italia (ACI) offices.

Parking
Street parking is confined to the right side of the street. In blue zones, a parking disk, obtained at tourist offices, ACI offices or gas stations must be displayed on the dashboard. Parking in this zone is limited to one hour.

Speed Limits
Speed limits in Italy are as follows:

  • City - 30mph/50kph
  • Open Roads - 66mph/110kph
  • Highways - 81mph/130kph

Italy Driving Tips


Don't Panic If You're Tailgated 
Tailgating in Italy is common practice, so don't become shaken when this happens. Do your best to keep up with traffic, but do not drive faster than what makes you comfortable.  Tailgaters will pass you at the first opportunity, so just keep your cool and give them room.

ZTL Zones - Where You Can and Can't Drive  
Many larger Italian cities have instituted ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) zones in order to reduce traffic congestion in major city centers. These areas are surveyed by traffic cameras and the instant your vehicle crosses this zone, a ticket is issued and forwarded to your home address. It's important you know where you can and cannot drive in Florence, Rome and other cities with ZTLs in order to avoid traffic citations.

Watch Out for Scooters and Mopeds in Italy
In addition to speeders and tailgaters, you'll have to watch out for scooters and mopeds while driving in Italy. Don't be surprised if they pull right out in front of you from a side street without warning. Defensive driving is important when touring Italy by car, be on the lookout at all times and be prepared for anything. The swell in traffic during the busiest tourist months can make navigating the streets by the car a bit more difficult, so wary travelers would do well to research the best time to visit Italy depending on what you're looking to see and do.

Don't Use Mobile Devices While Driving
Use of handheld cellular devices is strictly prohibited while driving in Germany, and if caught you may face steep fines. Hands-free devices are permitted, but it is still recommended to avoid the distractions of cellular devices unless completely necessary. 

Tolls in Italy
There are numerous toll roads in Italy, and it can be tricky to understand since there isn't one single company in charge of collecting money. Individual stretches of roadway are monitored by separate companies, with the toll amount depending on the distance traveled. It's advised to always carry cash on you when driving in Italy in order to pay tolls. Credit cards are accepted at some locations, but not at others.

Gas Stations in Italy 
Gas stations that are located along the Autostrade are usually open 24 hours a day. Some stations along other Italian roadways are open from 7am-7pm, with a break around noon. When picking up your rental car in Italy at the local rental counter, be sure you know which type of fuel your vehicle requires and that you're up to speed on the company's fuel return policy.

6 Little-Known Driving Tips That Could Save Your Life

Driving a car, or getting run over by one, is still one of the most popular ways to get killed in the modern world. Despite the fact that cars are safer than ever, they are still driven by human beings who, let's face it, often have trouble retaining even the minimal techniques and rules required to operate a vehicle.

But if you're reading this, hopefully it means that you are intent on doing what it takes to survive in a world full of such drivers by being just a little more careful. So for you, here are some advanced tips that everyone should know, even if most people don't ...

6. Don't Have Your Car Visible Anywhere in Your Mirrors



This is one of those things that takes next to zero effort to do right, but that almost everyone does wrong.

You hopefully already know that the "blind spot" is the name for the area on either side of a car that is invisible to wing mirrors. It's such a frequent cause of accidents that higher-end car models have adopted fancy radar or camera systems capable of detecting other vehicles in your blind spots and delivering the information to you in furiously urgent beep-screams as you swerve in terror and/or crash anyway.

Just gritting your teeth and flooring it isn't the answer.

However, the technology isn't the problem -- the necessary equipment to eliminate blind spots was around back when Henry Ford was still producing cars and anti-Semitic newsletters. All you need are your car's wing mirrors -- which most people have adjusted incorrectly.

You see, blind spots can be put into full view of your side mirrors, provided that these mirrors are adjusted to contain no part of your own car. Just angle them away from you until the point where your car is no longer visible in either one and leave them there. That way, there's no overlap between them and the rearview mirror, and any car that's passing you on either side will remain in at least one of your mirrors until it enters your field of vision.

Admittedly, this seems less like a "tip" and more like "the most obvious piece of instruction of all time," but nobody freaking does it. Manufacturers have to let you adjust the mirrors (due to things like differences in driver height), and most people simply don't know how to do it. That's why those same engineers are spending millions on technology meant to eliminate blind spots -- they have simply failed to teach people not to point their goddamned mirrors at the sides of the vehicle they're attached to.

5. Pay More Attention to Traffic Than Road Signs


If you saw someone blow past a yield sign into traffic and vanish in an explosion of steel and glass not unlike one of the Iron Giant's volcanic diarrheas, you'd be tempted to blame the crash on the driver who ignored the road sign.

But what if the yield sign wasn't there, like those intersections where there's nothing but an esoteric flashing yellow light and everyone stops and stares at each other? There would probably still be the odd person who flies through, but average drivers would become extremely cautious as a result of having no clear instruction of what to do. They would instead just intuit their next move based on the traffic around them, which is kind of the point of stoplights and road signs to begin with -- to force you to stop and look.

"What the hell does 'yield' mean, anyway?!"

In other words, you may be better off without the signs.

There are experts who believe that the overabundance of signs and signals just make you complacent, because you're fixated on blindly following instructions printed on reflective metal rather than not killing your fellow drivers. And we've all seen it happen -- drivers with a green light will plow through an intersection and T-bone another car that was clearly in their path, simply because the pretty colored light told them they had the right of way. And think about how people will lose their freaking minds if traffic and/or weather conditions have them driving slower than the posted speed limit, routinely causing accidents by trying to weave their way back up to maximum warp, even though the speed limit is literally just a number on a sign that takes absolutely nothing into consideration beyond what a few civil engineers came up with on a calculator 30 years ago.

"15 mph is fast enough for anyone. Those buggy drivers are out of control."

The Dutch city of Drachten decided to test out the theory by replacing 20 four-way intersections with 20 roundabouts free of any road signage, and the results were surprisingly nothing like The Cannonball Run. One intersection that typically killed two to four people every year saw no injuries for the next six years, and another intersection went from 36 accidents in the previous four years to just two in two years. All this just from putting more responsibility into the hands of drivers and forcing them to interact with each other in the absence of indifferent commands from stoplights and signs (although it could also be related to the fact that nobody in the Netherlands has a The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift poster on their bedroom wall).
Since the success in Drachten, a number of other cities have tried out similar concepts, most notably London, whose recently debuted Exhibition Road looks like the guy in charge of painting lines on the streets was tripping balls that day.
We're still not clear on how this is supposed to help, but there you are.

We're not saying that you should ignore stoplights and road signs, but that you shouldn't rely on them to make every decision for you. Just because you had the right of way at an intersection won't make you any less dead if you pull in front of an 18 wheeler, and refusing to slow down for pedestrians because they aren't crossing in a designated crosswalk won't put you any less in jail if you chop them in half with your Daewoo.

Or maybe we should just put it this way: Obey the signs, but assume that nobody else is doing so.

4. Listening to Techno Makes Your Driving Worse



Every car comes with a stereo and speakers, but you don't find much in driving manuals about what you should or shouldn't do with them. So it's easy to assume that it's safe to bump some jams while driving, as long as you're focused on the road and not constantly messing with the knobs or looking at yourself in the rearview mirror while you're singing. But research shows that your tunes are probably making you a worse driver, even if you just like a little ambient music in your Prelude.

"These whale songs are so ... *yawn* ... so ..."

An Israeli study connected test subjects to heart monitors and put them through a driving simulator while they listened to the music of varying tempos. A no-music control group experienced significant heart rate fluctuation while driving -- that is, their heart sped up when things got exciting, like if a moose turned up in the street or something. But those who were listening to any type of music saw their heart rate stay level (except during the Les Miserables soundtrack, when their heart rates soared with bittersweet triumph).

At first glance, this suggests that the drivers who were listening to music were calmer, and thus more careful drivers than the control group. But it was the opposite -- the music group Dukes of Hazzarded their way through the virtual driving course like they were running moonshine for a one-legged banjo player. They were calm (maybe), but only because they were less focused on driving than the control group -- they were placated by the music.

Which is why your creepy uncle always told you that mood music was the key.

The study also showed that drivers who were listening to higher-tempo music (between 120 and 140 beats per minute, the speed of most dance and techno music) were twice as likely to blast through red lights and had twice as many accidents as those who were listening to slower music or the deafening echo of their own thoughts. Drivers who were listening to dubstep were 84 percent more likely to believe that there was a Transformer behind them trying to mate with their car.

3. Always Have Your Headlights On



According to a recent study, you can reduce your risk of being involved in an accident by up to 32 percent simply by driving with your headlights on at all times. This seems like common sense -- obviously, something that is lit up is going to be more visible, regardless of the time of day. And as long as other cars are driven by tired, distracted human beings, greater visibility equals less chance of having a hood ornament embedded in your skull. Yet almost nobody drives with their lights on during the day (and cars with automatic lights won't flick on until the sun goes down).

"How will I sneak up on unsuspecting motorists now?"

Other drivers are simply less likely to pull out in front of you if they can instantly see the glare of your headlights in a quick glance (unless they were planning to cut you off, in which case they are shitheads and the accident was unavoidable). This also counts for pedestrians and cyclists, who statistically will sometimes miss their own oncoming death unless there are bright lights attached to it.

In countries like Canada, Sweden, and Finland, all new cars are required to have automatic running lights that stay on at all times, and you can get them on some new car models in the U.S. But the majority of drivers still have dusty old manual headlights, so if you're one of those people, you'll just have to dig deep and flick your lights on and off every time you drive (we know, we know -- it hardly seems worth all the effort, but trust us, you'll be much safer).

"LIGHTS?! Are you crazy? I'm already late for work!"

2. Your Parking Break Stops Working if You Don't Use It Regularly



Of all the aspects of driving, parking should be the most straightforward. Basically, you take the keys out of the ignition and get out of the car (hopefully after putting the car in park, hopefully not in the middle of an elementary school).

Oh, and if you're on an incline, maybe pull the parking brake. If you don't, you might end up like this guy, which is simultaneously a worst- and best-case scenario.

Inexplicably, the next shot is him bending back down to continue filling the gas tank.

But here's something most people don't know: You should probably put on the parking brake, regardless of whether you've stopped on the taxiway of a Delta terminal or at the summit of the Grinch's mountain, just to keep it in good working order.

You see, the parking brake is also commonly called the emergency brake, and as the name suggests, it can be used in a situation when your brakes fail or have been otherwise disabled by enemy agents. It overrides the hydraulic mechanism normally used to control the brakes and stops you with cables, which are demonstrably better than hydraulics because hydraulics never cut anyone in half in a Die Hard movie.

But the problem with steel cables is that they often rust and corrode, particularly after long periods of disuse. The way parking brake cables are designed, if you don't engage the brake every so often, the corrosion builds up and will cause it to fall apart like the bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You'll want to skid out regularly, and with a gun so you feel extra cool.

So if you bought your car back when the cast members of Harry Potter were still children and have never used the parking brake, and then suddenly throw it on to bail yourself out of an honest-to-God emergency, such as barreling down the switchback of Lombard Street toward a rampaging atomic monster bursting out of San Francisco Bay, the cables will probably just snap under the strain and result in a headstone that will seriously confuse future archaeologists. Unless the monster wasn't just a one-time thing.

1. Don't Brake During a Blowout



The knee-jerk reaction to pretty much all panicky driving moments is to stand on the brakes like goblins are trying to crawl out of them, and in most cases, this is absolutely correct.

Unless you're in a Speed-like scenario

That being said, imagine you're cruising down the highway at about 65 mph when all of a sudden you hear your rear tire explode like you just ran over a tiny landmine. As you fire the shit out of your pant leg like a muddy trumpet, you can feel that the car is about to go out of control. If you follow your instincts, you'll probably hit the brakes, but in this case, your instincts have tragically failed you.

See, if you brake during a blowout, you're almost certain to fishtail (and maybe flip), possibly into another fast-moving car or the median (or both). This is especially true if your rear tire has blown out, which is more likely than a front tire blowout (front tires wear out more quickly, but people see that and replace them, while leaving the rear tires in place for years and years as part of their plan to just drive the car until it slowly disintegrates).

"Still here, eh? Well played, car."

So in the event of a blowout, you must do the very thing that makes the least sense: hit the gas. But don't drop an elbow on it like Macho Man Randy Savage; just squeeze it firmly for a couple of seconds to regain control, keeping the car as straight as possible. A completely blown or otherwise flat tire drags on the ground like an anchor -- if you slam on the brakes, the anchor catches at 65 mph or however fast you're going, and you're screwed. Ditto if you smash the gas pedal -- picture a cigarette boat tossing its anchor down at top speed. Give the car just enough speed to stay in control and then gently let your foot off the gas, turning into the blown tire (if you steer the opposite direction, the anchor catches). The tire that betrayed you will eventually bring the car to a stop on its own, and then you can get out and throw your pants into the woods.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Driving Laws in the UK

If you're planning to book a rental car in the UK during your next vacation, becoming well-versed in local driving laws in the UK is crucial to enjoying a hassle-free road trip. In this section of our United Kingdom travel guide, we'll delve into the UK driving laws and child safety guidelines to assist you in avoiding fines while simultaneously maintaining a high level of comfort and safety while on the road. For additional information and answers to your questions, visit our UK Car Rental FAQ page.



  • In the UK (and much of Europe for that matter), a child must use a child seat until they're twelve years old, or at least three and a 3.5 feet tall. Child seats in the UK must meet European Union guidelines, indicated by a large label showing a capital 'E' in a circle.
  • Talking on the phone while driving is illegal in the United Kingdom and can net you a minimum £100 fine.
  • Turning on a red light is forbidden in the United Kingdom. Whereas you may be able to make a "right on red" in the USA or Canada, you may only make a "left on red" in the United Kingdom when there is a specific arrow designating that you may.
  • Passing in the left lane (which is the slow lane in the UK) is forbidden in the UK except when the right lane is traveling slower than the left. If you do pass on the left lane, return to the right as soon as possible.
  • Insurance for your British rental car is required by law and can be attained through your credit card company, purchased locally upon arrival, or can be purchased in addition to your car rental when you book with Auto Europe.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other mind-altering substances, including prescription medications, is strictly prohibited and met with zero tolerance in the United Kingdom. Similar to the US, a legal blood-alcohol concentration in the UK must be below 0.08%.
  • Driving laws in the United Kingdom are dictated by the Highway Code, a set of mandatory rules and regulations, guides, recommendations, and other information for anyone who may be driving in the United Kingdom. The Highway Code applies to drivers, cyclists, commercial vehicle drivers, pedestrians, and even animals, so it's applicable to anyone (or anything) that may be on the road.

Tips for Driving in the UK

Driving in the United Kingdom, or any new place for that matter, can seem scary and intimidating at first, but after perusing our tips for driving in the UK, you'll find yourself enjoying a hassle-free vacation and driving like a Brit in no time! If you're looking for recommendations on where to stop while on your self-guided road trip, or are looking for more general information about traveling in the United Kingdom, check out our comprehensive travel guide to the UK.


  • Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Driving on the left side of the road means many of your normal habits, such as turning, yielding, and knowing what direction to look for incoming traffic, will be backward.
  • Local Driving Habits

Driving in London or other large cities, especially during rush hour, can be hectic and other drivers on the road are likely to be less pleasant towards foreign drivers holding up traffic.
  • Navigating Roundabouts

If you've driven in New England or Ontario before, you're likely familiar with roundabouts; vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way in every situation, except when marked otherwise.Take your time, and if necessary, drive around the roundabout several times until you're confident you're making the correct turn in the appropriate manner.
  • Avoid City Centers When Possible

A vast majority of automobile collisions in the United Kingdom occur in congested urban areas, and for that reason, Auto Europe advises drivers to avoid city centers when possible, especially if they're still uncomfortable navigating roundabouts and driving on the left side of the road. If you want to drive in downtown London between 7 AM and 6 PM., you'll have to pay a congestion charge of £11.50 per day.
  • Utilize Carriageways and Motorways

Also known as highways, carriageways and motorways are the most time-effective and safest way to navigate the UK by car. Highways in the UK are organized by primary and regional destinations, where motorways (larger highways) connect primary destinations such as major cities, and carriageways (smaller highways, typically never more than two lanes in each direction) connect smaller destinations, such as junctions and smaller towns and cities.
  • Overtaking/Passing

Overtaking other vehicles in the UK is a slightly different process than in the United States or Canada, as the law prohibits passing on the left except when the vehicle in front of you is signaling to turn right. The strict regulations are in place to protect other drivers, motorcyclists, bikers, and pedestrians.
  • Wear Your Seatbelt

Wearing a seatbelt is a requirement by law for all UK drivers, you'll be fined a whopping £500 if you're found driving without your seatbelt.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Using a hazard routine

A hazard routine is a basic drill, or system of actions, that you will use each time you approach a hazard.

A hazard is anything that causes you to change your speed or direction, for example, junctions, parked cars, animals on the road, etcetera.

By taking a routine approach, you will be sure that it is safe to carry out any action that may be necessary to deal with the hazard safely.

The basic routine for driving in the UK is Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre, abbreviated to MSM. The full routine, however has more abbreviations... These are MSM - PSL - LAD. The sequence of actions that make up this expanded Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre (MSM) hazard routine is:


  • Mirrors
  • Signal
  • Position
  • Speed
  • Look
  • Assess
  • Decide (and act)

MSM in action

The example below describes how you would use this basic routine to make a right turn (the diagram shows a car in the UK where we drive on the left).

Mirrors
MSMAs soon as you are aware that there is a hazard ahead, you must check your mirrors to see what is happening behind. Just looking is not enough; you must ask yourself the question: 'Is it safe to carry out my manoeuvre?'

Signal
When you are sure that it's safe to proceed, ask yourself if there are any other road users who need to know what you intend to do. If the answer is yes, give the appropriate signal (by indicator, arm or brake lights). After signalling, check your mirrors again to find out how drivers behind are reacting.

Position
Check your mirrors to make sure that it's safe to move into the correct position for the manoeuvre.

Speed and Gear
Use the footbrake to ensure that you have plenty of time to change gear before the hazard. If things seem rushed, you're going too fast. Make a final observation check all around and then complete your manoeuvre.

Look, Assess, Decide, Act.
While carrying out the hazard routine you must keep a constant look-out for other road users. Doing this will help to ensure that you have all the information you need to make the correct decisions about your intended actions.

Note that mirrors have been mentioned at least three times in the routine above - there is no set number of times to check your mirrors; the important thing is that you MUST always know how your actions will affect following drivers and how their actions will affect your plans. Use your mirrors as often as necessary during the routine.

The Cheapest Way to Travel Europe

Without a doubt, Europe is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, and traveling across Europe fills the dreams of those ...