What You Need To Know Before Hiring A Driver In Italy

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.

Your Italian Driver Sorrento Italy
NCC licensed commercial passenger vehicle on the Amalfi Coast. (I have been using this company for years)

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.

Glam Italia Tour in Naples
Glam Italia Tour group arriving to Naples train station from Sorrento with our officially licensed NCC driver. We had been to Pompeii and a winery on the way.

*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.

RELATED POST: 16 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT DRIVING IN ITALY

What Is The Official License?

NCC licensed driver in Tuscany Luca Benfaremo
The professional driver who handles my Glam Italia Tours in Tuscany. NCC Licensed, authorized, fully insured for commercial passengers.

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.

RELATED POST: 8 CRUCIAL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

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?

Official NCC authorization on a passengeer vehicle
The shield to the right of the license plate indicates the driver is professionally licensed and authorized to transport you.

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.

NCC Shield next to rear license plat on prefessional vehicle in Italy
The shape and color of the NCC plaque can change from city to city. What doesn’t change are the letters NCC and the proximity to the back license plate.

Both the front and rear windshield will have either an NCC or Noleggio sticker prominently displayed.

NCC official driver in Italy
Either the NCC or Noleggio sticker must be clearly visible on both front and rear windshields

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.

Driver Networks

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.

ftdriver.com
NCC licensed driver and car in Piemonte

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.

RELATED POST: HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT INTO ROME

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.

7 Comments

  1. Giorgio
    October 9, 2019 / 12:23 pm

    Corinna,
    I would like to thank you for the detailed post. I’d like to add that unfortunately my Tour Operators use private vehicles without a license. One of, bit the list is neverending, is Grape Tours.
    Other illegal activities are often available on Viator. This web agency promotes guides, tours, drivers that are often illegal and with no license. Thjs being said, every licensed business has a tag, a plack, a way to be distinguished as official and regular.
    Giorgio
    President of NCC association

    • Corinna B
      Author
      October 9, 2019 / 6:47 pm

      Thank you Giorgio!
      Hopefully the blog post will reach enough travelers to start making a difference. Unfortunately tourists unwittingly trust companies like Viator and don’t know to check things like guides and drivers being licensed.
      Hopefully more bloggers and travel writers will speak out about it and start increasing awareness.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post,

      Corinna

    • Sam
      October 9, 2019 / 11:06 pm

      Giorgio… it is NOT TRUE that TripAdvisor Experience promotes ILLEGITIMATE drivers. We are in the SAME BUSINESS AS YOU, please stop scaring tourists away from TripAdvisor Experience (former Viator) just because YOU and others like you DO NOT LIKE Viator/TripAdvisor because they are a big competition to local business and ask for 30% commission fees + VAT. I Get it… you don’t like them. But please do NOT SPREAD LIES about them.

  2. Sam
    October 9, 2019 / 11:03 pm

    Corinna, first of all, for drivers to receive an NCC license it is NOT REQUIRED TO SPEAK A 2nd LANGUAGE! This is ONLY required for Tour Guide Licensing. Just to be CLEAR so you don’t misinform the public into thinking that drivers HAVE to speak a 2nd language, 90% of them DO NOT! They only speak ITALIAN and if they only speak Italian, they do transfers. NCC Drivers who ALSO speak other languages like English, CHOOSE to do tours by car. AGAIN, 2nd language is NOT REQUIRED FOR NCC LICENSE 🙂 NCC drivers have authorization to access ZTL zones. SO… IF you are staying in central Rome inside the ZTL zone ONLY NCC drivers can access that area during business hours. If you’re staying at budget little places in the perimeters of the city, and you ask your AirB&B to get you a driver – you may get his cousin! LOL YOU FAULT FOR NOT BOOKING YOUR OWN DRIVER and doing YOUR RESEARCH! ALSO.. .VIATOR (now TripAdvisor Experience) does business with LEGITIMATE companies who have already listings. It’s nearly impossible these days under new laws and regulations to be an illegitimate driver. You make it sound like it’s happening left and right. It’s NOT! To claim that Viator / TA uses illegitimate driver is absurd and smacks of IGNORANCE on your part. HOPEFULLY Non-Italian “TOURIST” bloggers like YOU will STOP posting things that are not entirely true.

    • Corinna B
      Author
      October 10, 2019 / 10:32 am

      Let me start by saying that posting comments using caps for emphasis gives you the credibility of a donald trump tweet.

      Yes, I am a “tourist blogger”. I also write for magazines both domestically in the United States and internationally. I am a best selling author (again worldwide) and make frequent television appearances, most recently on NBC in the United States to speak about international travel. What you call *ignorance* on my part, I call experience.

      I notice you haven’t identified yourself with any qualifications. What exactly is it that you do? Do you work for Trip Advisor and if so in what capacity? Obviously if your positions here are being made as a representative of Trip Advisor the company Public Relations department will need to address some of the points you are making. But luckily for them they will only have to do it in English as this blog, with its worldwide readership, gets translated into 24 languages daily.

      Please extrapolate on the following points. Preferably as an adult without having a tantrum in CAPS.

      1.) Is it your position, and potentially by extension Trip Advisor’s position, that travelers should only stay inside ZTL’s? There are many, many accommodation options (featured on Trip Advisor too) that exist beyond ZTL borders. Not all are “little budget places“, although a traveler shouldn’t be criticized if that is their choice. Every type of accommodation from hotels to boutique hotels to villas to vacation rentals and more exist beyond the boundaries of the ZTL. Not all travelers are seeking the same experience.

      2.) How is a tourist supposed to know to book their own driver or to question an Airbnb owner as to whether or not they are getting an illegal, unlicensed driver? After all it is considered normal practice worldwide to ask your hotel or accommodation to secure transport to and from the airport.
      If not for travel forums, blogs and articles from experienced travelers, exactly how are they supposed to know this? Your comment “LOL your fault for not booking your own driver and doing your research” is ridiculous. Are you saying you think it’s funny if they get scammed? Or are you saying you think it’s funny if something goes wrong, such as a car crash, due to them inadvertently hiring an illegal driver? Kindly clarify why this is “laugh out loud.”

      3.) As to your position that “it is nearly impossible these days under new laws and regulations to be an illegitimate driver” that is complete nonsense and you know it. Ask any NCC driver, or even better, step outside and open your eyes. I tell you quite clearly in the post how to ascertain if a driver is legitimate, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you.
      I have to question why you would say something that disingenuous, and why you would be so irate that someone would write about hiring NCC drivers and the inherent dangers of unwittingly hiring an illegal driver. Are you an illegal driver yourself? What possible reason can you have to be so incensed that someone would write about a road safety issue?

      4.) Finally as to your rant about Trip Advisor: in the post I recommend looking for drivers on Trip Advisor, checking their reviews, looking at their website and asking if they are NCC licensed. I do not speak to Viator using illegal drivers as I have no first hand knowledge of it.

      I look forward to you identifying yourself and telling my worldwide audience which company you work for and what your job title is. Also how and why this makes you feel so angered that a “Non Italian Tourist Blogger” would dare to write about the danger of hiring an illegal driver in Italy.

      Have a nice day,

      Corinna

      • October 14, 2019 / 4:41 am

        Salve Corinna io mi chiamo Antonio Savarese e sono un driver NCC da oltre 20 anni. Ti ringrazio fortemente per tutto quello che hai scritto sui driver professionali ed aggiungo che è tutto vero!!
        Negli ultimi anni noi driver legali assistiamo quotidianamente a turisti inconsapevoli, salire su auto e van senza autorizzazione e andare in giro per la costiera amalfitana e sorrentina nonché transfer da e per aeroporto e stazioni. Con auto di scarso prestigio e non confortevoli come quelle che usiamo noi professionisti. Autisti che vedono il nostro lavoro solo come un mezzo per fare soldi ma senza pagare le dovute tasse ed evitare tutti i controlli che giorno noi abbiamo. Chi afferma che i driver illegali non ci sono in Italia è perché con loro ci lavora e ci guadagna oppure è lui stesso un driver non autorizzato. Esiste addirittura un tour operator che da lavoro a un grande gruppo di autisti illegali nella mia zona… Avrei ancora tanto da dire ma non basterebbe un tuo libro… Ancora Grazie a te Corinna. Antonio Savarese Amalficoastlimoservice.

        • Corinna B
          Author
          October 14, 2019 / 11:28 am

          Salve Antonio!

          Grazie per le tue gentili parole!
          Spero che anche altri blogger e scrittori di viaggi raccontino questa storia. Se i turisti capiscono cosa sta succedendo, si spera che faranno le scelte giuste.

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