Monday, December 03, 2012

A Primer on Driving in Sicily: Traffic Signs

Traffic Signs

You may have read my previous post about the "Windsock Warning" sign.  Italian traffic signs can be confusing.  If you are from North America like I am, heads up - our signs are different.  That is, with the exception of the "Stop" sign which actually says "Stop" instead of, oh, I don't know, 'arrestare', 'smettere', 'bloccare', 'fermarsi', 'cessare', anything in Italian.  So, knowing this, you may want to check out Italian traffic signs and their meanings. This link to the Wikipedia page explains them all pretty clearly.  I have to say that, next to the windsock warning sign, my favourite is the exploding car sign.

When I first started driving in Sicily, I followed all the road signs and rules of the road.  That lead to a great deal of honking and rude hand gestures on the part of the drivers with whom I was sharing the road.  The hand signal I saw most often involved slapping the left hand on the inside of the right elbow and the right forearm coming up with the hand clenched into a fist.  So, I started watching.  I discovered that, according to what I was seeing, to Sicilian drivers, traffic signs are just suggestions.

On the right next to the bush are two no parking signs.  Notice the five parked cars.

This is a one way road - notice the blue and white arrowed signs.  Also notice the car pointed down the up-only street AND parked on the sidewalk.

Sometimes the signs are hidden and easily missed.  I really think the Sicilian department of highways likes to mess with our minds.

"Let's just hide this one in the bushes - they'll never see it there!"

In relation to the picture above, speed limit signs also seem to be suggestions.

80 km/h?  Yeah, right.
On the autostrada away from the cities where the the traffic is more spread out, the speed limit becomes less and less a rule to be followed - a maximum speed sign indicating 80 km/h would see cars speeding by at a minimum of 120 km/h.  Minimum.  As in most people are going faster.  At one point on our first trip to Sicily I was keeping up with the traffic on the autostrada to Cefalu'.  I glanced down at my speedometre and I was doing 160 in a 90 zone without even realizing it.  I almost pooped my pants!  I had never driven that fast in my life.

"Oh Crap!  How fast am I going???"
Just another note on speed.  Once you are off the autostrada, in terms of speed, all bets are off.  Sometimes you will see someone driving a little three-wheeled, one person truck that seems to be powered by a hamster on a wheel and will be driving half the speed limit.

I think the hamster sits right above the front wheel!

Sometimes you will have someone in an ordinary little Fiat who will be speeding around 30 km/h corners at 80 or 90.  And then sometimes you will see a car that you expect to be going fast but the driver is moving at the pace of a snail!  Two and a half years ago, in Calabria (same rules apply there), we pulled onto a regional highway behind a Maserati - shiny black, obviously well taken care of.  We fully expected the driver to leave us in his dust.  Instead he was doing about 60 in a 90 zone.  It was one lane each way, constant curves and no way to pass.   So we drove for about 2 hours behind this beautiful Maserati until he finally pulled off.  Two off-ramps later we pulled off and found the side road we were looking for.  We drove for about 20 minutes and who did we see in front of us?  The shiny black Maserati and driving even more slowly!  ARGGHH!  Another 15 minutes behind the Maserati.
So what did I learn?  Now I just drive at the speed that is comfortable for me - no more 160 km/h!

There are some signs that you might chuckle at but you really need to pay attention to.  We came across this sign just outside of Agira.

We had a little giggle about a cow warning sign.  We drove around the corner and this is what we saw.

When the cattle had passed us and we continued on a couple of kilometres down the road and we were in the middle of....

One night we were leaving Capizzi, the hometown of Nick's family.  It was dark and we came around a corner to see...

Horses, cows and a couple of goats all on their own.  I honked and they just looked at me.  I had to weave my way through them before we could continue on our drive back to Nick's cousins' house where we were staying.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, really informative, so much so that when I go to Italy I'm gonna hire a driver and take a happy pill. My fav. is the exploding stop sign, that was hilarious!!!

    1. It actually means No Flamable Liquid in you Vehicle. But I think it's hilarious too!

    2. HAHA!!! LOL!!! Well said!!! Just got the same idea… Thanks! Two thumbs up!!!

  2. Now that cute hamster up there surely reminds me the 3D animated film “Cars” I just forgot what was his name but they certainly meet Shumaker at the end of the film getting one of their tires. :D

    1. Hamster? Do you mean the warning sign with the cow?

  3. wow..i haven't seen such a serious as well as funny article about the traffic signs.i never thought about traffic signs in serious.As Onatario is famous for large traffic signs and sign boards The sign providers like httsigns link and all provides innovative and creative designs in those sign throughout the cities and mountains of Onatrio.

  4. Definitely,what a fantastic blog and enlightening posts,I definitely will bookmark your website.Best Regards! Flexible Signs

    1. Thanks Romana! This particular post is one of my favourites and it has, interestingly, the most traffic! Go figure. Who ever thought traffic signs would be that interesting!


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