How to cross the street in Rome (and live to tell the tale!)

Depending on where you’re from, walking across the street in Rome can seem intimidating. Traffic roars past you with scant regard for other road users, whizzing in between the cars are the “moto” (scooters), nobody ever stops for anyone else, and there are just SO MANY vehicles surging past, all honking their horns.

Amazingly, the majority of drivers in Rome are actually pretty skilful – the Italian driving test is incredibly rigorous. However there is a high proportion of drivers who consider the rules of the road merely to be guidelines, or believe that the rules should apply to other people only.

In order to cross the street without fear or danger, there are a few concepts to understand:

  • It is unusual for a driver in Rome to be “generous” to other road users – and that includes pedestrians.
  • Almost nobody will ever stop for you spontaneously just because you need to cross, even at a pedestrian crossing.
  • Never blindly trust a pedestrian crosswalk, either the ‘zebra’ type or those controlled by lights. Stay vigilant!
  • Never trust a vehicle’s turn signal. Most of the time they aren’t used, and sometimes when they are they’re an afterthought or have been left on as a legacy from a previous turn.
  • Even when traffic is stopped for some reason – a hold-up, pedestrian crossing, or traffic lights – beware the scooters splitting lanes, or even Smart Cars believing that they can act like scooters to ‘cheat’ their way past obstacles.
  • However, people do respect traffic cops (when they’re around, which is nearly never).
how to cross the street in Rome Vacation Tips

So when you inevitably do have to cross the road, steel yourself and be confident. Here’s how the locals cross the road in Rome:

  1. Try to establish a personal relationship with the driver
    This sounds dumb but it works. The reason for most cars to ignore you is that for Rome drivers, as a passerby you simply don’t exist. If you can look at the driver, catch their eye, make a gesture such as a wave, you have put yourself into their headspace and they are forced to acknowledge you. You can then try to cross the street.
  2. Hold up a hand to request or indicate that they need to stop
    Not aggressively but in a polite, “please could you stop?” way. This is effective at pedestrian crossings too. Make sure you thank them with a wave.
  3. Be decisive
    Unless you’re in immediate fear of your life, once you’ve started to cross, keep going! Cars and bikes that have taken a swerving line to avoid you will potentially have to readjust if you suddenly change direction, and you will increase  your chance of being hit.

That’s about it! If you’re still intimidated though, we offer these foolproof safety techniques:

  1. Find an old person
    …and cross with them. The reasoning being, if they’ve made it this far they probably know how to do it!
  2. Find a nun
    Even though passers-by are invisible, there’s an ingrained acknowledgement (and respect for) people of the cloth that subconsciously causes them to be more noticeable than average pedestrians.
  3. Find an old nun
    The ultimate insurance policy!

Now make sure you don’t miss out: plan your visit in advance:

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Photo credit: AFP

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