If you are planning a trip to Italy you need to read this post. It pertains to your safety, and after what I witnessed this past month (September 2019) I think it is extremely important.
This year I spent a lot of time on the Amalfi Coast with my tours. I have a company who handle all of my Naples-Sorrento driving transfers as well as day trips on the Amalfi Coast, both for my tours and also for my personal trips.
While on the coast road on two separate occasions last month I witnessed drivers with a car load of tourists make some pretty stupid and very dangerous moves. One in particular was really hair raising.
My own driver, who is a professional, commercially licensed and authorized driver pointed out to me that these were non-licensed drivers who had no legal right to be driving tourists.
This got me thinking about the danger these tourists had been in without even knowing it. It also got me thinking about how you as a consumer can protect yourself when traveling and be sure to only hire fully licensed professional drivers, wherever it is you are traveling.
Are You Going To Hire A Driver While You’re In Italy?
There are several reasons you might end up hiring a professional driver during your trip to Italy.
*The first is to handle airport and train station transfers, for example Sorrento/Positano/Amalfi to Naples train station or airport. Or maybe you are just doing a transfer from your hotel in Rome to the airport.
*The second is for events such as day tours and winery tours.
*Sometimes it can be much easier and more expeditious to hire a driver to move you from one city to another, especially when one is remote or doesn’t have great train service. If you are on the Amalfi Coast and want to go to Matera for example, you might find it quicker and easier to have a driver take you and your luggage rather than deal with the regional trains.
Moving between cities with a private driver also opens up the opportunity to visit some little towns along the way, your luggage being safely stored with your driver.
*Another reason you may hire a driver is to spend a few days doing your own private tour.
Whatever the reason you hire someone it is imperative that you only book someone who is properly licensed.
What Is The Official License?
There is actually an enormous amount involved in becoming a professional driver in Italy. The official license is called the Licenza NCC and is the same all over the country. (In Italy it is called an Authorization. The U.S equivalent is extremely rigid licensing.)
*Beyond regular driving licenses, professional drivers have to have a commercial license/authorization and be on a regional professional driver register, which involves another series of complex and difficult exams. Drivers must have the authorization of the city hall where they are licensed.
*They have to pass difficult exams on local geography and history in the foreign language of their choice. This means they are fluent in at least one other language. Many of them speak multiple languages. They are also able to tell you about the area you are in, what you are seeing out the window and all manner of interesting things, in your language.
Should something go wrong, from finding you have left something at the hotel to finding yourself in a medical emergency, a professional driver will help you or get you help in your own language.
*The cost of this license/authorization is high and they have to adhere to very strict rules, with the loss of this very expensive license as just one of the penalties for violating the rules.
*Professional drivers have a zero alcohol limit. That can mean no drinking the night before a job as well as no alcohol the day of.
*Not only are they randomly alcohol tested, they are also randomly drug tested with toxicology tests that show drug use up to a year prior.
*They must carry full commercial passenger insurance.
*The vehicle must be cleaned in between services.
*Professional vehicles have to go through hard moT testing every year. This testing looks at everything from tires to lights to brackets to brakes and much more.
There are a huge number of rules for professional drivers, all either pertaining to your safety or to the quality of your experience.
Non Professional Drivers
You put yourself into a world of risk if you hire a non-professional driver, wherever you are in the country. At home you wouldn’t get into the car of some random stranger or someone’s crazy uncle – the same applies here.
Apart from the fact that these illegal drivers aren’t properly licensed they don’t have adequate insurance, which could be catastrophic for you should they get into an accident. Their cars aren’t properly tested or regulated, and can be unsafe.
Not being registered and regulated by a governing board, these fools drive as erratically as they want. The ones I watched last month were driving like maniacs. With their cars full of tourists.
There is nothing to stop them from having drugs and/or alcohol in their system.
If they are an illegal driver your safety is the last thing on their mind. Making money is all they care about.
Don’t Assume – Be Specific And Ask.
Don’t assume that your hotel or Airbnb will automatically order you a licensed driver and vehicle. They may be getting you their cousin or a friend who needs extra cash and they may be making extra money themselves by referring work to sketchy companies. You can be certain that whatever discounts are happening are not making their way to you – you are still paying the same as you would with a properly licensed, fully regulated driver.
I’ve even seen some Airbnbs that offer for the husband to pick you up at the airport for a fee. Remember, you don’t know this guy, you don’t know if he’s been drinking, if he’s a safe driver or if his vehicle is safe. What you do know is that he is not a professional driver and doesn’t carry the right insurance.
Tell them upfront you want an official NCC driver. No exceptions.
How Can You Tell If Your Driver Is A Professional?
Professional drivers in Italy are required to have what is called a Licenza NCC. This is easy to identify – there will be a metal plaque beside the license plate at the back of the vehicle, normally in the shape of a shield.
Both the front and rear windshield will have either an NCC or Noleggio sticker prominently displayed.
There are no exceptions. No other stickers. No other licensing.
If your driver tells you he doesn’t have that type of identification on his vehicle because it’s not required where he is from, or because he is licensed elsewhere, it is straight up B.S.
Don’t get in that car.
If the police pull over a driver who does not carry a professional license you can be left on the side of the road, literally. The car/van can be impounded and the driver arrested.
Illegal drivers will normally try to tell police that you are their cousins from America/family friends or some other nonsense. Be very, very careful. Should you go along with the lie you could find yourself in a world of trouble in a foreign country.
Most professional drivers in any given area know each other. They help one another out with everything from alerting each other to trouble on the road ahead to covering for each other if bookings run late or overlap. With a professional driver you have multiple layers of benefit.
They also all know at a glance if another driver is illegal.
It Happened To Me
It seems as though everything I have learned, I have learned the hard way!
One time in Rome several years ago I asked my landlord to organize a transfer to the airport for me. At the time I wasn’t dialed into the system and really didn’t know how to find a driver on my own. The various landlords I rented from always set it up for me and I had never had a problem.
This time I had a 7 am flight back to the USA and had a super early pick up. I knew as soon as he pulled up that the driver wasn’t legit. He was a surly Russian who spoke no English. In hindsight he had probably been drinking. The car was decent but as we were en route I realized he was just moonlighting as a professional driver. Real drivers don’t show up looking disheveled and moody – real drivers carry themselves like professionals.
I was somewhat stuck as it was dark out and I had to get to the airport. The apartment I had been renting wasn’t close to a busy street where I could have found a taxi, and the 6 digit local taxi number didn’t work from my international phone.
Once I got to the airport I talked to the drivers parked nearby (who told me I’d been driven by a non-licensed driver), got some business cards and developed my own network of commercially licensed professional drivers who do airport transfers in Rome.
What You Can Do
There are a few things you can do to secure your safety when booking a driver in Italy. If you are a member of my newsletter you can bounce me back an email, and if I have drivers in an area you are traveling to I will happily share them with you.
If you are not a member yet you can join the newsletter here
Love it or hate it, Trip Advisor is the gold standard for finding quality travel referrals. Research drivers in the areas you need them and then look at their reviews. Most of the legitimate professional drivers are going to have loads of reviews. When you reach out to them be sure to ask if they are a Licenza NCC driver. When you go to their website look for Licenza NCC shield or wording to indicate they are professionally licensed.
If you are having your hotel or Airbnb secure a driver for you be sure to tell them up front you want an NCC licensed driver. Remember, if they get you an illegal driver they are pocketing the extra money. I would back that up by saying you have read about it on trip advisor. No hotel concierge wants a trip advisor review saying he referred an unlicensed driver.
If there is no NCC plaque next to the rear license plate and if either NCC or Noleggio stickers are not prominently displayed on both windshields do not get in that car.