I posted once before about warnings I’d read about driving in Sicily.
Turns out, descriptions such as “the seemingly erratic driving nature of Sicilian traffic” were a bit of an understatement. Last night, for example, resulted in us and others having to go the wrong way on a one-way street because we ran into an unexpected bit of construction (because who needs signs?). I was freaking out, but apparently this sort of shit is just normal.
At any rate, Chris and I had our “safety class” today to learn about Sicilian driving. Mostly the class consisted of telling us what the rules of the road are, and then advising us not to follow them. You are required to stop at stop signs, for example, but if you actually do that you will probably get rear-ended by the guy behind you. Tailgating is bad, but leaving more than a few feet ahead of you is, according to our instructor, “an invitation to come cut you off.” He had several examples of times when you should technically have the right of way, but “don’t ever assume anyone agrees with you.” Cars drive in the center of the road to avoid potholes, swerving out of the way when oncoming traffic approaches. But if you hug the side of your lane to avoid people flying past you or to make room, all you are doing is inviting the rest of the traffic to decide there are three lanes of traffic, not two, until you get squeezed out.
Safety guy says that in the US, 1 in 15 drivers annually are involved in traffic accidents. In Sicily, the number is 1 in 5 drivers. Color me shocked.
We also learned the appropriate way to pay “a guy” who “watches your car” when you park in various places. The way this is communicated is through eye contact. Also, if involved in a crash we were advised not to talk to the police until a base translator shows up because foreigners have a funny way of getting blamed for any and all incidents. Something to do with the fact that we are all required to have car insurance to bring a car here. This also makes us about a million times more likely to get parking tickets, apparently.
Speaking of which, one fun fact we learned is that tons of base personnel (based on rank in military or on the GS scale) are allowed to issue tickets. So that includes Chris. If he sees someone driving like an asshole, he can take down the license plate and report it to base security, which apparently just takes his word for it and writes up a ticket. For some reason this was hilarious to me. Although to be fair, I really couldn’t help laughing at several points during the entire presentation because it was all so absurd/terrifying.
So far, Chris has done almost all the driving (for which I’m super grateful) and has been quite calm even when people fly out of nowhere. I’ve only tried a couple of times but both have been OK — largely because I drove during the day and on non-busy roads. Baby steps. Our rental car is an odd little thing – it is an automatic, but it tends to jerk around when you hit the gas and it rolls backwards when you take your foot off the gas. Our own van will be here in the next couple of months, and in the meantime we are actively searching for a small second car. I have a feeling our van will have plenty of new dings and scratches as souvenirs when (if) it goes home. Sorry, Sienna.