As I was driving back home—jolty-legged from 4 straight hours of walking (OK, and eating, chatting and eating some more); preoccupied that my little boy's temperature was kept under control, and tired from the week's other 387 chores, appointments and errands—I happened to pull up at a traffic light, behind one of these.
If you don't live in Italy, these expensive little toy cars may be obscure. But they are virtually everywhere here, and especially popular in Rome's more posh neighborhoods. As opposed to other two-seater vehicles, like Smart cars, these are 50 cubic centimeter "quadricycles," built in light fiberglass, and driven much like mopeds and scooters by kids 14 and older. Without a licence.
According to current legislation, a light motorized quadricycle must reflect the following standards: a weight not exceeding 350 kilograms (700 lbs), a maximum speed of 45 kph (28 mph) and a maximum power of 4 kW (5.6 hp).
But after a series of deadly accidents in April of 2010, there has been continued tightening of regulations for under-age drivers, with the introduction of a license system, and a mandatory 12-hour traffic school attendance. The course should cost between €120 and €200, and is due to cover all practical and theoretical aspects of driving, as well as providing training in emergency procedures.
If you've ever been surrounded by a swarm of these speeding contraptions—or worse, hit by one whose brakes have suddenly gone kaput (something that apparently happens quite often)—you too will embrace the new legal ordinance.
Typical micro car situation, posh neighborhood, 5 p.m. on any given weekday/weekend
Loud music thumps from exaggerated sound system.
- Engines that have been tweaked to increase speed and power, roar mercilessly (illegal, since there are age limits per each cc increment).
- Average young driver smokes cigarettes, while texting on iPhone, while driving.
- Average passenger is doing the same (except driving).
- Micro cars tend to cluster and drive very fast to wherever they are going, often racing each other in traffic (while texting on iPhones and smoking cigarettes).
- Cutting off, overtaking in an intersection, and running a red light often come as built-in accessories.
- Both driver and passenger give attitude and customarily flip other protesting drivers in the event of above mentioned situations.
Before investing in a micro car, you should know that:
- Micro cars induce plenty of teen PDA.
- The seating limit is hardly ever observed.
- Parallel parking a micro car is a misnomer.
- Micro cars are very expensive (broadly ranging from €14,000 new, to €4,000 used).
- Insurance premiums for micro cars are very expensive (€900 – €200 per semester, according to region, worse in the southern regions).
- Micro cars are not environment friendly, although some "electric" models are now being manufactured.
- No airbags, no anti-lock braking system, no reverse back-up sensors, reduced steering and suspensions, lightweight body, small tires, poor traction control system.
I wrote this as a precautionary measure in case my son, 10 years from now, thinks he can ask me for one of these.
Si amore, pedala!
(Sure, babe. Keep pedaling)