Sooner or later while driving in Italy you will experience what they call the “Paddle Stop.” You will be driving down the road and there at the side will be a Carabinieri car with a couple of people in their smart Armani designed uniforms. One will be holding a little paddle. Green dot on one side, red dot on the other. If you are shown the red dot, you must pull over. They will request your registration documents, identity card and drivers license. They may also ask for insurance info, but we have been stopped twice and they only asked for the first three. If everything is in order, they will bring your documents back in a minute or so and wish you a safe journey. Basically they are looking to make sure your car registration tax is up to date, your license is valid and you have a valid residence card. For Americans, the rule for driving in Italy is that you can drive on your American license for one year after you gain residency. After that you are supposed to get an Italian license. It is called a “patente”. The exam is in Italian and consists of 40 questions. You can get 4 wrong. You must also take a road test. It is required that you do this through an auto school which will cost you 400 to 600 euro. One last important document you need, and I list this in a separate paragraph because if you are going to keep driving after the one year limit, which very many of us do, this document can be the difference between a routine paddle stop or having your license taken away. This document is called the International Drivers Permit. You can get them in the US from AAA, or you can get them on the online. It will cost you about $50 for a printed one, or about $30 for just a digital one. Really, this is not a license or real permit to drive. It is just a translation of your American drivers license into a bunch of different languages. It is however, technically mandatory to carry one, even within the permitted year, but after the year is up, it can be hugely important. We were stopped today and I just gave him my American license. He looked at my residence card and saw I had been here for three years. He started giving me a lecture and told me I could not drive. He was going to give me a 100 euro ticket and take my license away but also mentioned it was because I did not have the International Permit. Hey! Wait! I have one of those in the glove box. I grabbed it and showed it to him and it was like the Emerald City doorman in the Wizard of Oz. Well! Thats a horse of a different color! Never, mind, here is your license back, but tsk tsk, go to auto school and get your Italian license. So, that’s my cautionary tale. Know the rules and follow them. Especially if your command of Italian is not quite ready for unexpected situations.
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